Fundamentalism & pornography

We’ve been having some discussion about fundamentalism. As a member of a religious order, it is a problem of great concern for me. I genuinely believe that humanity’s religious heritage is its finest flower, yet it seems to fall so easily to the depths.

In the last few days I’ve also been thinking about pornography. Not, one might imagine, the most usual topic for a celibate monk to engage, except, of course, to morally condemn. My own experience is limited; but I was once a teenage boy. ‘Nuff said.

This train of thought was stimulated a few weeks ago, when I did a gig on happiness with a local philosopher, Caroline West. I did a little background research, and one of her most accessible articles online happened to be on “Pornography and Censorship” for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It’s an excellent article, do yourself a favor.

She starts with the famous quote by Justice Stewart: “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it.” I feel kind of the same about fundamentalism. And I wonder whether the similarities might go deeper.

The use of “porn” as a derogatory adjective has spread beyond its use for sexually explicit material. A recent Guardian review, for example, called the movie 2012 “disaster porn”. I wonder whether such an unconscious extension of the word might not reveal something of the associations of the word that more formal approaches might miss.

I haven’t seen the film, so this is just speculative. But I think what it’s getting at is that the depiction of disaster is so explicit that the mechanics of the thing overwhelm the rest of what makes a good film – story, character, theme, and so on.

Good art is always integrative. It shows human activities, choices, and feelings, and puts it in a nuanced, complex context that enhances a sense of fullness and humanity.

Pornography, on the other hand, is reductive and dis-integrative. Rather than depicting sex as a part of life, in the midst of relationship, emotion, human developments, successes, dangers, and failings, it focuses on the mere mechanics: genitals in motion. Sexual desire always spins around and moves towards this; having sex is a key desired outcome of any intimate relationship. But in pornography this becomes the only thing. People, and especially women, become nothing more than life support for sex organs. Relationship, emotion, consequences, are all stripped away to create a dissociative fantasy.

It might seem as if there’s nothing in common between pornography and fundamentalism. After all, fundamentalists are always arch-moralizers, intent on telling everybody else what they should do. But there are some similarities even on the surface. Both groups are obsessed with sex. Christian & Islamic fundamentalists spend inordinate effort railing against homosexuality, promiscuity, pre-marital sex, or indeed anything that doesn’t fit their own tiny imagined version of human possibility. Buddhists opposed to bhikkhuni ordination are likewise caught up on the shape of genital organs as the defining factor in ordained life.

But it seems to me that there are more, err, fundamental similarities. Just as pornography strips away all complexity and nuance to focus obsessively on the one object of desire, fundamentalism does the same thing to religion.

Fundamentalists ignore context, history, nuance. They imagine an eternal, changeless religion that is dissociated from anything that has actually happened in the real world.

In real human relationships, sex is an intense, central part of a far more complex situation. Porn strips that away and focuses on the sheer physical locus of desire.

In genuine spirituality, too, the central beliefs of a devotee function in a complex nuanced way in relation to the devotee’s entire life.

The fundamentalist shares with many more typical devotees a belief in naive, literal doctrinal assertions, like ‘the Bible is the word of God’, or ‘the Tipitaka was spoken in its entireity by the Buddha’. But for most people these beliefs form a background part of a complex, changing relationship with their spiritual tradition. A fundamentalist focuses obsessively on these unprovable and implausible doctrinal assertions, as a pornographer focuses obsessively on ‘genitals in motion’.

Just as pornography depicts the highest happiness as a mechanical stimulus of physical parts, with no genuine human involvement, fundamentalism sees the spiritual life as the conformity with a set of defined beliefs, with no genuine concern for the well being of people. While true practitioners practice their religion because it makes themselves and others genuinely happy, fundamentalists want to prove they are happy so that they can convert others to their beliefs. It is immaterial to fundamentalism whether people are reasonable, sane, or happy, as long as they subscribe to the right set of beliefs.

I have mentioned many times that I have no answer to the problem, that I believe fundamentalism to be extremely dangerous, and yet I have despaired at being able to seriously communicate with fundamentalists. In the wake of the recent scandal with Pastor Rory, who was hauled up by the Singapore authorities for criticizing Buddhism, Ven. Dhammika has said that he thinks interfaith dialogue is of little use in dealing with fundamentalism. I would agree, the fundamentalists just don’t show. That doesn’t mean interfaith work is no use; there are plenty of other good reasons for doing it. We just shouldn’t expect to have any direct impact on the fundamentalists.

Dhammika suggests using government-sponsored initiatives to reward healthy spiritual groups. This is a fine idea, but it will not solve the problem. Fundamentalists thrive in seeing themselves as the ‘other’, a persecuted minority under siege from the secular encroachments of modernity. They would love nothing more than to ‘prove’ how disadvantaged they are by the way the government only supports other groups. Martyrdom does wonders for a religion’s popularity.

The other day we had an Australian Religious Response to Climate Change meeting. We all felt a little depressed after the debacle at Copenhagen, and the ascension of prominent skeptic Tony Abbott to opposition leader. We discussed holding a faith and climate change forum in Canberra and inviting the PM and Mr. Abbott. But I was worried about this: why should we give the skeptics a platform, as if they were presenting an actual reasonable interpretation of the science? It’s like allowing the Creationists to teach their myths next to Darwin in the science class.

As I was pondering these things, it occurred to me that the Buddha laid down a specific punishment for the incorrigible Channa. Called the brahmadaṇḍa, it is effectively the silent treatment. Whatever he says, ignore him.

This cuts to the heart of a genuine human need to be heard. We need to express ourselves, to believe that what we think and feel is worthy of others’ attention and response. I think we just shouldn’t talk to the fundamentalists. If anyone is engaging in ‘religious pornography’, trying to force on you their own narrow-minded, uncompassionate, literal dogmas, don’t grant them the dignity of a reasonable response.

Some time ago I posted a powerful statement by Bishop Spong where he said much the same thing: he was not going to waste his time talking to bigots and fundamentalists as if they were reasonable human beings. There’s simply not enough time in our short lives.

If we adopt this policy, not as a mark of failure or uncertainty, not as a lack of compassion but as an expression of it, we will free our own minds and time for positive work. And as the example of Channa shows, it can be an effective policy. Channa was so mortified he apologized, asked to be taught, and became an arahant.

A couple of days ago I was sent a file called How_to_convert_Buddhist_to_Christianity, which is a lesson for Christian children, evidently from Singapore, on how to convert their Buddhist friends. There’s no need to detail the breathtaking stupidity, error, hypocrisy, and arrogance in this approach. I would agree with Richard Dawkins that inculcating children with this rubbish is a form of child abuse which may well be more damaging than physical abuse. Even their own children are not treated as real humans in need of genuine spiritual sustenance from their chosen religion, but as tools in a propaganda war. Their children’s “Buddhist friends” are no more than targets for conversion.

Mums and dads: tell your kids not to put up with this! Show them this document and explain why it is wrong. If anyone comes to your kids with this kind of propaganda, ask your kids to just say no. Don’t engage. Don’t respond as if this were a genuine way of relating between people of different faiths. Explain to your children that this is not a respectful way of relating to people of different faiths. Peddlers of fundamentalism to schoolchildren should be treated like peddlers of drugs or pornography. Write a letter, send it to the school board, and cc as many people as possible: the teacher, headmaster, Department of Education, local Churches, media…

It is not easy to tell the difference between a fundamentalist conversion attempt and a genuine dialogue. Just as in the article I’ve uploaded, the fundamentalist will always hide their true motives under the guise of dialogue. They practice this and train themselves.

It’s crucial that parents don’t just tell their kids about the wrong kind of dialogue. Children must be shown the right kind. If your children go to a Sunday school or other Buddhist class, find out where there’s a local open-minded mosque, church, temple, or synagogue. Take the Buddhist kids there, talk with the priest or whoever, and, if possible, with other children. Encourage them to ask, find out, and learn about each others’ religions, and see what this can do to improve their own practice.

Fundamentalism is to religion what pornography is to relationship. As long as it does not cause clear and immediate harm, it should be tolerated within its legal boundaries. But, just as a pornography has no place in a discussion on genuine human relationships, fundamentalism has no place in a genuine dialogue on spirituality.


141 thoughts on “Fundamentalism & pornography

  1. The following comment was originally posted by Greg in another thread – I’ve moved it here.

    Sujato wrote — “I think we just shouldn’t talk to the fundamentalists. If anyone is engaging in ‘religious pornography’, trying to force on you their own narrow-minded, uncompassionate, literal dogmas, don’t grant them the dignity of a reasonable response.”

    Agreed — my first response is to think the opposite : “of course we should engage them in discussion, and be reasonable together”, but my experiences with fundamentalists of all three Judaeo Xtian ( I include Islamic in that ) inclinations, is that such dialogue is pointless. What I also find deeply offensive is how much real, visceral,extreme violence and utterly nonspiritual lack of compassion and lack of empathy is implicitly included in their world view. There is a real hardness about Christian, Jewish and Muslim fundamentalists that accepts hurting others quite openly and easily. I find that unacceptable.

    The highly regarded scholar of fascism, Zeev Sternhell advises us and warns us that there is no real dialogue possible with fascists, how ever much we may prefer to ‘reason things over with them.’

    Regrettable, because I’d much prefer to try and see these peoples’ points of view, and engage in respectful discussion, but experience tells me that it isn’t possible.


  2. ABSTRACT “Previous research has shown that fundamentalist religious beliefs and affiliations are associated with more conservative gender attitudes. This study expands upon previous research by examining both the individual and contextual effects of conservative Protestantism on gender attitudes. Multi-level analysis of data from the General Social Surveys (1985-1996) reveals a significant relationship between the proportion of fundamentalists in a state and more conservative gender attitudes of white individuals within that state even after controlling for the individuals’ own religious affiliation, beliefs and practices.”

  3. I heard somewhere that a very high percentage of those who are in the porn industry were sexually abused as children. I don’t know if this is accurate but it seems to makes some sense to me.

  4. My understanding is that very conservative people have a much different response to threats then do folks who are more liberal. Conservatives tend to respond with much more stress and fear.

    Does that occur because of nature or nurture, I don’t know. Also, since this is just one study, the study may be flawed.

    This ties into my personal experience that conservatives are much more fearful than other people. What a terrible place to be.

    Frightened people don’t tend to respond in a open hearted and compassionate manner.

    May all beings be free from fear and suffering.

    • Agreed Alan — I think there has to be some degree of fear and hatred involved in fundamentalism.

      As a fresh point to consider though — are we ‘intolerant fundamentalists’ too sometimes in the way we interpret Theravada and react to other Buddhists ? I don’t mean that any of us would ever express reactionary or violent views of course — but I do notice in myself a certain dismissiveness if people differ with me, when I am discussing , say meditation and Suttas or Buddhist history, ethics such as should Buddhists be vegetarian etc.

      I can tend to get dismissive, and cut people short — it’s a tendency I have tried to observe and decrease in my responses.

      Any of you the same?

      Are we, in our own small ways, ‘fundamentalists’ too ?

    • I agree with you Greg – In Western Buddhism I think there is a phase in the new student when we think we’ve found the secret to happiness- that “this is it” and then look at others like, well, they haven’t found it – there is a bit of comparison and subtle smugness under the surface – I cant quite describe it – I think it wears out once a few years gather under our belts…(or when the s*** hits the fan in your community and bursts the pious dream bubble!) I see it all the time too between sects – Maha – Hina I have heard many teachers almost (almost) diss other sects (and techniques/methods/emphases), (but rarely other faiths (thankfully). And then of course the experience from Asian lay Buddhists at first that because you are Western and white, you can’t be a serious student. (That is just a general reaction to identity lines cultural differences – I fully understand it – not really an experience with more serious Asian Dhamma friends. I often have a good laugh when i meet Japanese friends who are devout Christians – we share a little joke about the cultural reversal) This whole teaching on anatta and how identity impacts evrything…it is a rich teaching and a rich exploration…to observe how it plays out in the world, packaged in so many different forms…
      I admire how you are exploring this – it is so important to our path to happiness and true seeing…it is freeing … but frustrating when we see how it traps so many of us in so many harmful ways…
      Degrees of freedom….And degrees of difficulty…I am not a fundamentalist or a conservative now…but if certain conditions arose that were more immediately threatening to me…what then?

  5. Yes, sadly and tragicaly, pornography is another avenue used to subjugate woman by dehumanising them and resorting their status to mere sexual play-things by dominant men. It sems as human beings living in a complex, modern world still encumbered with stone-age brains, it would behoove us to examine this primative form of female dehumanisation. It seems fear of emotional attachment, loss of control, and misogyny is underlying this basic motivation.

    An interesting parallel that this underlying motivation is subsequently transferred to patriarchal religious organisations in the form of denying woman basic human rights in the practise of their spiritual faith. There is
    an interesting talk by former President Bill Clinton on this subject that speaks to the actuality of this occurance:–Video

    • Pornography dehumanizes men as much as women. Yes it is driven by men, on the whole, although that is changing.

      Ever seen the tv series “sex in the city”? Dehumanizing and turning people into sex objects is unfortunately not the prerogative of men and women are less and less able to claim to be “victims” of the modern porn industry. Yes many are and certainly many more in the past were, but some certainly are not.

    • Yes you raise a good point wtp, I was thinking afterwards that men are often pressured as well to play a role that is equally dehumanising. No blaming here…its all a bit of a big social mess really.
      SITC is a TV series that depicts modern life in the 90’s where woman are striving to be successful in their careers (in New York) that requires them to exemplify masculine qualities, while simultaneously trying to maintain heterosexual relationships and retain their feminity. And some of these TV characters (fictional of course) are acting in a way that (in some cases) represents a backlash by women to the way they had been previously treated by men. Both modern women and men are muddling through these confused new roles of how to act and behave and obviously there are no clear answers. That is part of modern life, everyone is trying to figure it out, hopefully to the betterment of the human race.

  6. I had forgotten an experience that I recently had in a ongoing class on non-violent communication (NVC) that I attend. A member of our group who is Christian is having conflicts with the more conservative members of his congregation. Not surprisingly, the key issue is gender equality. This conflict is splitting his church as the liberal and conservative (more accurately, they should be called authoritarian) members of his church fight over which direction the church will go.

    He was very frustrated because talking to these folks is like talking to a wall. In many ways it is useless since you are not going to convince them of anything.

    So we did a role play with my friend acting as the conservative Christian and the rest of use using the language and techniques of NVC, not to reach agreement or to convince, but to understand the needs underlying the conservative person’s behavior.

    It was a wonderful experience since as you would guess the NVC group is very liberal and there was a lot of frustration and anger in the group with conservatives. My friend did a great job in the role play and through the language and techniques of NVC we were able to reach some level of understanding of the needs of the conservative church goer. And as this occurred we were all able to touch the compassionate part of our minds and the frustration and anger started to change into compassion.

    Now, I don’t suggest this at the political or policy level. I think ignoring these folks at that level is the best thing since talking to them just allows them to play their little games (as mentioned in the post and comments). Also conservative (authoritarian) leaders are very different from conservative followers. Conservative leaders tend to be amoral and not all that conservative, but use the tendency of their followers to follow blindly to gain power and wealth. I’d recommend reading the work of Bob Altemeyer, considered to be the worlds leading expert on authoritarianism, if you want to understand authoritarian leaders and followers:

    But at the personal level, trying to understand needs (heart) and not getting caught up in the logic (head) may help us touch our compassion for others very different from us.

  7. There seems to me to be a strong link between those that subconsciously or actively, accept violence as a part of life, and those who are religious fundamentalists.

    Of course, that isn’t exclusive to religious fundamentalism — Most people involved in politics, for example, are violent. They may posture at maintaining a veneer democracy, but then enact and condone violence on sometimes staggering levels.

    People in daily life accept violence too — how many ostensibly ‘normal’ people are there that get involved in football violence,fights after drinking, or that believe certain races/nations ‘deserve’ to be attacked , or ‘had it coming’ ? You hear these kinds of things all the time.

    On a more perosnal level, I find it too much bother to be a fundamentalist — ultimately, I don’t really care if others feel the same way as me about ‘spirituality’, religion or ideology. It would be such a bother to ‘make them’ come round to my way of thinking, and whose to say it’s ‘superior’ to theirs anyway, and whose to say it would suit them or make them happy?

    No — I rebel at my deepest level at forcing or goading others into following what I believe.

    But here’s the rub — If innocent lives were to be saved,as in the case of protesting a war such as Iraq — then I would urgently like others to beleive to be the truth about the war, and I’d like to ‘convert’ them,in order to save lives.

    And perhaps that’s what some fundamentalists feel, that they want to ‘save us’ with their truth?

    Many questions arise here.

    To go back to my original point though; stop and think now — how many complete pacifists do you know, those who believe with all their heart and mind in Ahimsa — who are religious or ideological fundamentalists?

  8. Sex, violence and religion, this blog has it all. Scintillating writing and compulsive reading, I feel as if I should be hiding a printout of this post somewhere inside my (borrowed) copy of the PTS Majjhima.

    Ahem … seriously though, the link between religious conservatism and porn are real (see

    On a slightly different tangent, I’d like to draw a line between religious conservatives (herein ‘RCs’) and fundamentalists (hitherto ‘the Big Fs’).

    RCs are good guys (and gals), not so different to you and I, they may even live in your neighbourhood!!! RCs are simply ensconced in their closeted worldview due to a lack of beneficial exposure to anything better. They are often genuinely interested in learning, and can move on from narrow-mindedness, given the right supportive conditions. Kinda like those stubborn and revolting teens who quite miraculously turn into reasonable and balanced adults.

    Big Fs, on the other hand, are sinister and twisted. While RCs suffer from naivety, Big Fs are active participants in fraud. I think Big Fs are characterised by their fabrication of religiosity in service their personal interests, as well as their appalling efforts to obfuscate truths which are detrimental to the same.

    Big Fs are clever, and they coopt RCs, who knowing no better, swallow their outrageous tripe as if it were common sense. That is why Big Fs are so interested in converting youth, and using youth to convert youth.

    As per Orwell’s 1984, Big Fs, master the art of double-think so that they may utilise modern technology and understanding of media and psychology to the full while crushing the pursuit of reason and authentic enquiry from which these are born. Their real agenda is personal gain, but they shroud themselves in garbs of virtue to ‘protect’ their followers and themselves from the terrible terrible shadow of their own minds.

    Being an RC is a normal part of growing up. If you’re a Big F though, bad news: you’re sick and you need help.

    I suspect that in this bhikkhuni furore, quite a few RCs are feeling the sting of being mistaken for Big Fs. I also suspect that in English speaking Buddhist circles, whether monastic or lay, the number of Big Fs are actually quite low (at least in comparison to Christianity and Islam).

    When spiritual progressives inadvertently label RCs as Big Fs, they make RCs into the ‘other’, thus discouraging RCs from becoming progressive – or worse – encouraging their entry in the DARKSIDE!!! of Big Fness.

    Furthermore, for this reason, Big Fs have a big interest in making out as if there is no difference between RCs and Big Fs. RCs, after all, are the power base of Big Fs, and so Big Fs rely on the evocation of common identity to keep RCs within the herd. It’s also important to note that Big Fs are not big deal unless they have managed to wangle themselves into a position of leadership. Once they have, however, the tactic of non-engagement is harmful. Big F leaders must be actively opposed.

    So we have this difficult and delicate task before us of establishing our own sense of self-worth and esteem as spiritual progressives, without alienating those RCs who we were like not so long ago, and perhaps, perhaps, even leading those good RCs to the greener pasteurs of mature, intelligent, and fearlessly enquiring engagement with religion (we don’t have so many virginal nymphs to offer though – darn!).

    As for the Big F leaders? As per the Singapore example, the fear of state violence (ie. secular law) may be the most practical immediate option. In the long-term? Dunno. A good therapist?

    Good luck and … uh … deva-speed to us all.


  9. Great post Jason, with much to reflect on, but respectfully, I’d like to disagree with one point.

    You wrote — “I’d like to draw a line between religious conservatives (herein ‘RCs’) and fundamentalists (hitherto ‘the Big Fs’). Religious Conservatives are good guys (and gals), not so different to you and I, they may even live in your neighbourhood!!! RCs are simply ensconced in their closeted worldview due to a lack of beneficial exposure to anything better.”

    I have known lots of Religious Conservatives, and many ( if not all ) of them held offensive, implicitly violent views.

    For example,
    If you aren’t Christian, you can’t know the truth, you aren’t one of the saved, and will probably go to hell. It’s my duty to convert those heathens in Muslim countries. And don’t mention those that killed Jesus…unless of course, they are part of the ‘end times’ or ‘rapture.’

    Or — If you aren’t Muslim, you are deeply immoral , ignorant and will burn in hell — unless you convert.I have no wish to listen to your views on scripture, especially if you are a polytheist idol worshipper. ( EG Buddhist/Hindu )

    Or — We chosen people own the land, and we will settle it , because God gave it to us. And I am not going to even tell you what Halakha law says about gentiles.

    I have know so many religious conservatives with the above views — I fail to see the difference between these deeply offensive religious conservative views and those of the fundamentalists, except perhaps a difference of degree of viciousness.

    I have to say though, that I am not anti the Abrahamic faiths per se — I have profound awe and respect for reflective Christianity, from Meister Eckhardt, to Angelus Silesius;and I have the highest regard for mystical Islam,many of the Sufi and Shia teachers and poets over the centuries who I revere, and much of the poetry and intellectual methods that the Jewish tradition has contributed to our world are not questioned.

    • Hey Greg,

      The boundary between a fundamentalist and a religious conservative does not rest on the content of views.

      The difference is the capacity for dialogue and change.


  10. I guess my main argument with these mainstream conservative expressions of the three Abrahamic faiths, is that none of them seem willing to take that leap into wordlessness and silence, beyond language and externals — and to me, that’s precisely the place we can all meet.

    To me, that’s the place that Meister Eckhardt was trying to reach, that point beyond images and forms.

    Which is probably why he was once considered a dangerous heretic, and was lucky to escape unscathed.

    • Yes Greg, I know what you mean, I was told recently that because I was a Buddhist and not a Christian that “I would go to hell”.
      My answer???
      “I’m already in hell, and I’m trying to get out!” hehe 🙂

      Jason, you raise some very good points, and you are right we must be careful to not tar all with the same brush. Good reading alright, and might I say very distracting! But I’m happy to see such open-mindednes and liberal views amongst such dedicated spiritual practictioners. You guys are cool. Ah….back to work…… 🙂

    • Anne wrote — ” I was told recently that because I was a Buddhist and not a Christian that “I would go to hell”.
      My answer???
      “I’m already in hell, and I’m trying to get out!” hehe ”

      Love it ! Good one.

  11. I have reflected further on this issue of fundamentalism and my difficulty with labeling some people/ groups as fundamentalist. I am clearly out of synch with most on this board but despite my huge admiration for Ajahn Sujato I am still uncomfortable with this approach.

    Now this blog suggests we are to equate everyone we deem to be fundamentalist with pornographers! Yes there are similarities and the comparison is certainly instructive. But it loses some of its value in being so blatantly negative. There are also positive comparisons we could make if we chose. For example fundamentalists could be compared with dedicated athletes who persist and overcome great odds by the force of their self belief, or family groups that survive against the odds by mutual support and love. Yes both require a suspension of rationality and “faith” in their belief systems, and an unconditional acceptance of those in the group, but both achieve worthwhile and even great things.

    But it seem we are on this board to beat up on the fundamentalists, as we call them, not to look for the positives or even to consider some of the circumstances that condition their approach to life.

    It is no suprise that most fundamentalist behaviour occurs in the context of communities that feel threatened by external or internal forces. Whether it be the poverty and violence of the third world, or the idealogical threats of middle America. Looking for certainty in an uncertain and threatening world should not, in my opinion, elicit our condemnation and ill will, but rather our symphathy and understanding. I am not disagreeing that people in this state are difficult or impossible to talk with rationally, but that does not mean we should write them off. Should we paint ourselves into a corner where we assert communication is impossible – then in a self fufilling prophecy congratulate ourselves that communication did not happen just as we thought??

    For me the way forward here is to stop call people and groups “fundamentalist” and start labelling particular behaviour patterns as “fundamentalist”. Yes Mr Abott’s unwillingness to rationally evaluate climate change evidence is consistent with “fundamentalist behaviour”, but that does not make him a “fundamentalist” who is not worth engaging with. The WPP’s response to the Bhikkuni ordination is “fundamentalist” in its appeal to authority and procedure, but that does not make the WPP a fundamentalist body that should not be engaged with. If they choose not to engage with us that is their choice, but as Ajahn Brahm says – the door is always open.

    As always, just my view…

    • Wtp, I agree with your view.

      I think this kind of approach favours labelling, categorising and in the end just as much stereotyping groups of people based on some, perhaps over-simplified characteristic.

      Personally, I don’t see much of a benefit of engaging people as “…-ists” or as a “group” but at individuals with their individual needs, fears, experiences.

      with metta

    • Hi wtp,

      I disagree with scrapping the term ‘fundamentalist’. (mostly because I think ‘Big F’ would be better! … just kidding …)

      I agree that words should never been used as chock to a closed and niggardly heart. Words, like all tools, used in a way that is useful and beneficial.

      Here’s how I think a functional understanding of the word ‘fundamentalist’ can be useful and beneficial.

      To me, the word ‘fundamentalist’ simply means ‘a person who is permanently incapable of listening to divergent opinions about a particular topic, and consistently reacts hatefully in relation to the same.’ Basically, it’s an extreme and calcified version of the pigheadedness that all of us phase in and out of day in, day out.

      This being the case, if we are to use the f word usefully, then we should append an adjective that describes the scope of the topic in relation to which the person is fundamentalist.

      So, for example, if a reliable friend were to tell me ‘Jane is a samatha fundamentalist’, then he is not indicating that Jane is ‘irretrievable recalcitrant to the marrow of her bones and worthy of naught but haughty dismissal at all times and places’, but merely that a chat about my latest Mahasi retreat is probably off-limits.

      In this case, I have benefited from the knowledge that Jane is a samatha fundamentalist, because it that information is crucial to how I choose pursue a positive relationship with her. The use of the term hasn’t discouraged me from meeting her, in fact, I am even somewhat intrigued by her as a result of my pique. Thus, I become her friend over time. And, being the devious and subversive fellow that I am, I regularly do things like strike conversations about how calm, serene and concentrated I feel when kneading bread (did I forget to mention that she’s a breadmaker?) and segway naturally into how my breadmaking started getting much better when I did some reading and discussion about the life cycle of yeast … hehehe.

      It’s a self-confidence thing. If we throw away words because of a fear of their possible abuse, then the alternative is either silence, or constantly playing Mister Nice Guy. In both cases, self-esteem suffers terribly. I think we all know at least one fellow practitioner who is either too quiet or too nice for their own good. The key to positive interactions with messy complex human beings (ie everyone) is not a stiff tongue or forced smile, but dexterity and confidence with language.

      Naming is an incredibly powerful thing. Then pen really is mightier than the sword. Using a pejorative term to describe a thing that is genuinely harmful is awfully liberating. Knowing the harmful as harmful, and stating it as so, however, need not preclude having an open heart. If anything, the cultivation of self-esteem leads to the big-heartedness that is capable of staying receptive in trying circumstances.

      When words are used with care and skill, then our voices become strong. I would have it that we all find our voices because my experience has been that the development of voice marks a crucial juncture in the maturation of practice.


      PS: The question of whether a person is worth talking to about a particular thing is separate to whether a person has committed acts of violence which, of course, should be condemned.

    • Hi WTP,

      I’ve wanted to respond to your comment for some time, as it thoughtfully addresses some of the issues in the original post, but it’s been hard to find time.

      Just before I start, I’d like to just note that, while the thread below has gone into discussion of the Middle east and wider geopolitical considerations, this was not really what I was thinking of when i made the original post. I was mainly think of fundamentalism as directly encountered by Buddhists in the countries I am familiar with. This is primarily Christian evangelist forms of fundamentalism. I know that Buddhists also have to deal with Muslim fundamentalists (like the taxi driver who told me that all non-Muslims would go to hell…) or, in India, Hindutva fundamentalisms. There are also political problems that are related, such as the impact of Communism. But none of this was what I was directly considering, and I guess it would be a matter of inquiry to see how far my suggestions might cover those cases.

      One essential distinction which I should perhaps have made more clearly, is to distinguish between a dogma and a person. Of course, a person with fundamentalist views is still a person, with all of the complexity and kindness and contradictions that we all have. In using the label fundamentalist I am simply referring to that aspect of a person – which, in extreme cases, threatens to dominate the personality. We’ve had one commentor say how her mother is a fundamentalist – does that mean she doesn’t love her? Of course not. But it would probably mean that if you want to have a nice xmas dinner you’d avoid talking about religion…

      You’ve made that point very nicely in your last paragraph, and I would agree completely with this.

      Now this blog suggests we are to equate everyone we deem to be fundamentalist with pornographers! Yes there are similarities and the comparison is certainly instructive. But it loses some of its value in being so blatantly negative.

      Well, perhaps we shouldn’t be so negative about pronographers. They, too, are just taking ordinary human desires and pushing them to an extreme. I’ve known a number of women who worked in the sex industry, and I would have to say that all of them were intelligent, aware, and very spiritual people. Frankly, they are far more awake than any of the fundamentalists I have met. i don’t want to say this is representative, or to defend the sex industry in any way, but to reflect on the complexities of things. I think the sex/porn industry is dreadful thing, very harmful, and we’d be better off without it. But is it more harmful than fundamentalism? I don’t know – but probably not. We are certainly degraded as a species by porn, but I doubt if we will be ended by it. Fundamentalism, on the other hand, is reasonably likely to bring about the actual end of civilization, be it through global warming, nuclear conflict, middle east tensions, or whatever.

      Having said that, I believe that there is a developmental aspect to be considered. I think that it is natural, when we are learning values, that these are black and white and simplistic. Later, as the real world intrudes, we learn to deal with the complexities of them. There are, i think, many people who are simply on their way to a more nuanced and mature ethical/spiritual perspective, and this is not a problem. The problem is when this gets stuck inside an ideology, and that ideology wields real political and social power…

      For example fundamentalists could be compared with dedicated athletes who persist and overcome great odds by the force of their self belief, or family groups that survive against the odds by mutual support and love.

      But that’s not fundamentalism. A fundamentalist sportsperson would be one who says that only his sport is worthwhile, and all other sports are useless, and who dedicates their lives to convincing everyone to play their own sport, and regularly uses unethical means to do so. A family group that survives against the odds, maybe in the time of famine or war, is inspiring; but are they still admirable if they do so by developing an ideology that their family is the only pure and noble lineage, and that all others deserve to die – or worse, eternal torment?

      both achieve worthwhile and even great things

      Really? some examples, please…

      But it seem we are on this board to beat up on the fundamentalists

      No, I wrote the article to give guidance and support for Buddhist communities, who have told me, again and again, that they feel threatened by the unethical conversion methods used by Christian fundamentalists.

      most fundamentalist behaviour occurs in the context of communities that feel threatened by external or internal forces

      Absolutely, and we should make the effort to understand where this behaviour is coming from. But there are countless people who have been subject to the same conditioning and have made very different choices.

      By all means, work to overcome the cause of fundamentalism: poverty, ignorance, sectarian dogmatism, isolation… But, while fundamentalism as social movement is conditioned by such forces, people still make their choice. We cannot reduce fundamentalism to an individual level: the fundamentalists don’t, they base themselves on a communal identity. They teach their children to be an ideological force; they identify with a particular religious community. There are communal forces at work, and individual choices. Both need to be considered.

    • It was interesting coming across the exchange above today, given that I’d just had lunch with an old school friend whose husband is a Christian minister in a church which is evangelical, and in some respects, I would say, fundamentalist. In the past, we’ve had some difficult conversational moments, over homosexuality in particular. I remember after one such conversation feeling very shocked and dismayed, and wondering whether my friendship with my old school friend could survive our differences of conviction and experience.

      Happily, it has. And one of the conditions for this is that we now avoid the topic of homosexuality – we might be able to talk about it again eventually, but I agree with you, Bhante, that sometimes there are things that you can’t usefully communicate about, and silence can the best option (although not as a weapon, better as a tacit space of truce or tact). That still leaves a huge range of topics on which we manage to have extremely meaningful, connected and enjoyable exchanges. And I even get the feeling that my friend’s attitude toward homosexuality has softened and become more inquiring because she’s aware that I have a lot of gay and lesbian friends. If I’d cut her off as a friend because of the fundamentalist position of her church on this issue, I think the effect would probably have been the opposite.

      (I think this is a real life example of what you were modeling in your post, Jason.)

      I’d add that in my situation, it would seem a bit condescending to go too far down the path of trying to explain (away) my friend’s views by reference to her suffering or fear or something like that. I do understand the pressures on her to conform to the religious community she is committed to, for example, but at the same time, because our relationship is basically one of equals, I also recognise that my own (sometimes pretty strongly held and expressed) views are just as conditioned (by my social set, for instance) as hers. And in this relatively mild instance, that isn’t because either of us have been subject to any exceptional suffering, it’s just because we’re human. Which is also what gives us the capacity to keep questioning and shifting our own views over time, and finding kind and realistic ways to help each other to do this.

      Hmm. Did I just come out as a gay rights fundamentalist?

    • juzzeau :
      … and silence can the best option (although not as a weapon, better as a tacit space of truce or tact).

      There’s a nuance I hadn’t considered. Tricky to negotiate it reality – which is what makes it interesting and fun, btw.

      juzzeau :
      I’d add that in my situation, it would seem a bit condescending to go too far down the path of trying to explain (away) my friend’s views by reference to her suffering or fear or something like that.

      Yups. Again, tricky to negotiate in real life, but I think there are times to not ‘condescend’, and show respect to others by acting from the assumption that they are functionally mature human beings who are capable of (and will benefit from) being responsible for her/his own ethical choices, and able to give a cogent account of the same.

      juzzeau :
      Hmm. Did I just come out as a gay rights fundamentalist?

      Nah … you have to be ‘in the closet’ in the first place in order to ‘come out’.


    • Dear Juzzeau,

      really appreciated the perspectives and experiences you have shared… thanks so much 🙂

  12. I do not think fundamentalism and conservatism is black and white, as we all have various degrees of fundamentalism or conservatism in our minds along with all of the other stuff.

    For me Fundamentalism and conservatism, are reactions to change, Fundamentalist and conservative people are more adverse to change than liberals. Nothing new in that.

    Not all change however is good and a liberal may easily be labeled as a conservative if they opposed changes that they thought were wrong or bad.

    It seems to me that where you sit depends on two things:

    1.A moral compass or values system ie are women equal to men?

    2. A willingness to listen and be open to new ideas.

    For me Fundamentalists and Conservatives usually have a moral compass that is based on their cultural values rather than Universal Human Values and most importantly they are characterized by an having an inability to listen and having closed minds.

    I strongly believe that Fundamentalists and Conservatives should be engaged and talked to. I cant agree with Sponges comment (if i understand it correctly) as he sounds like he is advocating engagement, only with people who are willing to think like us……The bad news is that at least 50% of the worlds population is conservative or fundamentalist and they must be engaged………..If for no other reason that liberals may just be wrong and liberals need to keep an open mind as well.

    Sponges comment sounds like a closed mind to me.

  13. Oh I forgot to say… Have a look in particular on page 5 (sort of at the top of the page) of the Oprah interview… I thought it relates to the current discussion.

  14. I very much agree with Jason about the danger of putting all of those who don’t think like us in one big basket and call them fundamentalists. The people who will benefit mostly from us doing that will be the fundamentalist because that will justify their claim that we are all, after all just as intolerant as they are.
    I agree it is not always an easy distinction but it is one which is very important for us to make because if we don’t we will be alienating the majority of the people as I have a great suspicion that most people in the world are conservatives in one way or another.
    As I totally agree with Bhante about the way to treat fundamentalists (the silent treatment) we would be most unwise to employ that attitude with conservatives.
    Like the opening line of Bhante’s post even though I can’t say exactly what are the differences between conservatives and fundamentalist, I do know a fundamentalist when I hear one. Maybe it is the voice of God in their speech or the totality of their convictions to the point of blowing themselves up, I really don’t know…. However I will dare to say that even though they are loud and very affective in creating the daily agenda their numbers are relatively small – and if we are to appoint the fundamentalist call to all conservatives it will be our lose.
    Conservatives do have the right to be heard and the right to our attention. They are the people that we need to converse with if we really want to have a dialogue – otherwise we will be talking to ourselves and those who agree with us. Big deal.

  15. The topic of this post is criticizing Christians vs. criticizing Muslims.

    I thought the flier on how to convert Buddhists to Christianity was fine. It is an essential part of Christianity to try to convert others. They seem to have made a relatively good-faith effort to describe the basics of Buddhism. It is the fault of us Buddhists that the misperceptions in that material are there; we should be out there educating about what nirvana really means, for example, and why not all desire is a problem, at least until the very end of the path.

    Many Christian proselytizers relate to non-Christians on the level of compassion. They care about the other people and are trying to save them from a fate that they actually believe God has in store for them if they don’t convert.

    Christian fundamentalism is not a real problem for this world. Christian fundamentalists are really the least of the world’s worries. Islamic fundamentalism is far more invidious, yet these ideologies are criticized far less often. This blog isn’t, of course, the only place this sort of thing happens. Do we liberals across the world ignore Islamic fundamentalists because we are afraid of them, or because we don’t expect they could do any better? Or is it because we don’t think criticism would do any good?

    • “{Xian|Islam|&tc.} fundamentalists are dangerous.”

      Note you can put anything you want in the braces and still come out with a true sentence, showing that a fundamentalists’ views and behaviors are the problem, not their particular methods of rationalizing it.

      As an aside, to suggest that Islam is a “more invidious” version of fundamentalism is, itself, an invidious claim; I suggest caution with such statements, especially when delivered without quantitative evidence.

  16. Californina, Fundamentalism is a major threat to the world, and that includes Christian fundamentalism — watch the following video :

    Do you not find these Christians and Zionists frightening? I do.

    Do you not consider right wing Zionist land settlers a dangerous threat to world peace? I do.

    And, you said Islamic fundamentalism is criticised far less often — but it is criticised all the time, from the left to the far right — Wahabbiism, the nastiest brand of Islamic fundamentalism, has long been considered a serious threat by many on the left and right. But the funny thing is, the main peddlers of that Wahhabi doctrine, the Saudis, are America’s best friends, and still are — didn’t you see Bush cuddling up to them, and Obama bowing to them, and the Europeans selling them weapons? The truth is though, besides crackpots like the Wahabbi and Taliban, most Muslims in countries like Lebanon, Sryia, Palestine and other countries, were never a threat until our leaders started provoking them; in fact, Muslims, Christians and Jews lived happily together in these countries for centuries untilour side started winding them up.

    Please let me know what you think of that Christian/Jewish fundamentalist video I posted here — If you don’t find that deeply scary, I have to wonder why you are on a Dhamma website discussion board.

    • Greg:

      As pertains to your discussion of issues in the Middle East, your onerous lack of cited facts paired with invective against one group while sustaining an ahistorical view of the virtues of another is a representative example of rhetoric designed to convince through emotional inflammation rather than rational debate. Please rephrase your argument.

  17. Also, you said — “we should be out there educating about what nirvana really means, for example”

    But why should we? People can come to it, when they want to — Buddhism isn’t a missionary proselytzing religion.

  18. Buddhism most certainly is a missionary, proselytizing religion. Are you unaware of Buddhist missions from India to Bactria, China, Sri Lanka, etc? Have you ever heard of Mahinda or Sanghamitta? How about Nagasena? The Buddha himself sent arahants out to spread the Dhamma for the good of the world during his own lifetime.

    I found the video to be more of a farce. As the Israeli ambassador pointed out, the person who is out there most actively trying to bring about the end of times is Ahmadinejad. The Christian fundamentalists’ call for a unilateral strike on Iran is certainly worrisome, but them asking for it won’t make it happen.

    Sure, Israeli settlers are a threat to world peace. But they’re not killing people. Islamic fundamentalists are out there killing people, mutilating girls, and throwing acid on their faces for going to school as we speak. And the Israeli settlers are only a threat to world peace because they are antagonizing Muslim fundamentalists. If they were taking the land of Buddhists (or, for that matter, Christians) it would be a strictly local problem.

    The behavior of Western leaders toward Saudi Arabia is not relevant to this discussion. Their behavior is motivated by economic rather than religious motives.

    Now you said:

    “The truth is though, besides crackpots like the Wahabbi and Taliban, most Muslims in countries like Lebanon, Sryia, Palestine and other countries, were never a threat until our leaders started provoking them; in fact, Muslims, Christians and Jews lived happily together in these countries for centuries untilour side started winding them up.”

    Well it seems that you are not familiar with the second-class citizen status mandated for Jews and Christians under Sharia (which was the law there until the middle of the 19th century), or how those countries became majority Muslim in the first place. Also don’t forget the Islamic invasions of India, which were far worse than the Islamic invasions of Christian lands, especially if you were a Buddhist monk.

    And it’s not “just” the Wahabbis and Taliban. There are wars or insurgencies going on in many parts of the world that are motivated by Islamic fundamentalism. If you want a quantitative comparison of invidiousness, compare the body counts for Islamic fundamentalism vs. Christian. It’s not even close. Shouldn’t this be what we care about first and foremost?

    Perhaps the tendency to criticize Christians first comes because we still see ourselves as being creatures of the West, and we believe that Jesus was right when he said to first “remove the beam from your own eye”. The West forms part of who we identify as being, and we feel we should fix “ourselves” first.

    I seem to have upset you all, though, so I won’t question the established wisdom on these issues again.

  19. Californian:

    As pertains to your discussion of issues in the Middle East, your onerous lack of cited facts paired with invective against one group while sustaining an ahistorical view of the virtues of another is a representative example of rhetoric designed to convince through emotional inflammation rather than rational debate. Please rephrase your argument.

  20. I think both of you will find that I resist and criticise ALL forms of Abrahamic fundamentalism, equally —

    I have no wish to ever,ever accept Wahhabbi Islam and their exclusive,violent rhetoric. Ever. I find it repellent on every level.

    I have no wish to accept Christian fundamentalism. Ever. On any terms. It is frightening, arrogant, and deeply destructive. Look at the attitude of so many American fundamentalists, from Bush down. Scary. I will never accept that view. Ever.

    I have no wish to ever accept the Zionism of Herzl, Jabotinsky, Gurion, Sharon, Kahane, and their inheritors and friends on the settlements. Ever.

    Now, on the other hand — if you want me to accept Islamic Sufism ( not the California version ) , and its inclusivity,and its poets and teachers — then we are getting somewhere, and I am ready to accept it. I respect that aspect of Islam, deeply.

    Now, if you want to discuss Chirstian mysticism, like Eckhardt, Silesius, A Kempis,Thomas Merton, and the Egyptian/Syrian Desert Fathers, then I am totally open to it, and revere it.

    If you want me to accept Zionism as espoused by Hannah Arendt, Zeev Sternhell and Avi Shlaim, as a movement for Jewish self determination and a struggle to not be forever an object of hatred and scapegoating, then I will support you, and stand with you all the way.

    But I will never, ever accept the exclusivity and tribalistic nationalistic, aggresive nature of all three of these religions.

  21. I should add that the fundamentalist expressions of all three of these religions ( as exemplified by the Wahhabi, Zionist settlers, and the Christian ‘war on terror’ groups ) have one thing in common — they are all neo fascist, and I don’t use that term lightly. They all have the distinct hallmarks of fascism.

  22. Because life sucks, It’s dukkha, seems that for theistic fundamentalists their escape is praying to Jesus or some gods to save them or getting high on praising Jesus or hallelujajing and singing and clapping their hands. All they have to do is believe and praise and they’ll be saved. My mother in law is veeery Christian fundamentalist and she gets high on praising the lord and having deluded ideas that god loves her and will save her. When she suffers, she praises the lord.

    Now for others the answer to the suffering of life is indulging and escaping in sense pleasures, and an extreme case can be porn. It seems that when people get bored and just feel like life is suffering (which it is) we either play on the internet, chat with people, drink tea or coffee etc. People have their escapes and distractions or ways of stimulation that makes them feel alive and distract them to the fact that existence is suffering. So it seems that praising Jesus or watching porn might be a way to cope with the same problem of the dukkha of existing.

    Now for buddhists of course when life sucks it shouldn’t get us to fall prey to our desires and continue making more samsara, neither praise some god, but rather sit on our butts and meditate. The buddhist’s path!

  23. I am quitting the current thread, not becuase I can’t hold my own corner, but rather because after seeing American fundamentalism in action in Iraq, and then seeing Zionism in action in Gaza, where the kill ratio was 1,400 Arab dead ( Muslim and Christian) and in contrast, 14 Israelis dead,and when neo cons and Israelis are hyping a war against Iran, then I feel full of sorrow for the dead,and I worry we will all end up arguing. My sentiments run very high about fundamentlaism when I see the body count.From my point of view, I don’t think such heated arguments have much place on a Dhamma board.

    I have said all I want to say, and don’t want to add any more to threads which encourage friction.


    • Your observations are much appreciated.

      Why blame only Muslims for violence or for that matter only Abrahamic religions? What about Hindu fundamentalism? What about rabid Chinese ethnic intolerance? Personally I don’t see any substantial difference.

  24. Dear Bhante,
    Another intelligent and thought-provoking post. It is such a pleasure to catch up on your blog musings.

    The most evident correlation between porn and fundamentalism is the need to control. In terms of the portrayal of women (or the subjugated and therefore “feminized”) in porn, all elements leading to fantasy outcomes are
    strictly controlled, following recognized signals of power, domination, mediated violence, and if not submission, then conquest.

    Fundamentalism includes all of these elements.

    Women recognize men who see them only as sex objects and healthy women avoid these men, when they can, and avoid discussions with them when they can’t. So be it with fundamentalists whose world view prohibits dialogue.

    In America, Christian fundamentalists celebrate the gunning down of doctors who provide abortions. In the most recent case, he was murdered as he was leaving a Christian worship service with his family. One can see the correlation vividly here.

  25. Visakha, in many regards, you are quite right — because prejudice on a ‘street’ level, is exactly what flowers into fundamentalist violence on a wider level. Indeed, we may see the Chinese ethnic intolerance you mention tip over into mass scale violence as China grows in power.

    And there has long been a meaningful charge made against Hindus for their nationalist violence against Muslims.

    Anyway, I said I wasn’t going to get involved, so I am not going to say anymore : In the wake of the recent Goldstone report, and the remembrance of Gaza, and the 1,400 Arab casualties, ( 14 Israelis dead ) and the wall carving up their stolen land,and after hearing Netenyahu’s recent speech at a Holocaust memorial outside Auschwitz of all places, calling for an attack on Iran, I feel very, very angry — and I don’t feel that anger is at all suitable for a Dhamma board.

    I add a link to Justice Goldstone’s report on Gaza, not to provoke or pick a web fight, but in the Buddhist spirit of empathy and compassion. Because I am a Buddhist — no, because I am a human being — I want people to see what really happened there, in Operation Cast Lead.

    Was there ever a more suitable name for a massacre, a massacre Goldstone described as ‘terroristic’ .

    Please watch CHAPTER 11 of the Goldstone Report
    Deliberate Attacks against the Civilian Population


  26. Loving all of the comments and the heated points too. These are the tight corners for growing in Dhamma! And training our warrior skills for the dialogues in “real” life.

    We just need to hold each other in our Dhamma space. Loving speech deep listening. As best we can. 🙂

    Sorry my posts are often brief and void of summaries or analysis. Hopefully the massive heap of work and travel will recede soon!

    Some of you may find this work interesting. (It is not about the Middle East but it is all about fundamentalism vs. conservativism; gender equality battles across all faiths; etc) tons of good stuff here – dont let the “f” word turn you off (ah, the other one).


  27. It has been interesting reading this Blog topic on a personal level I find that I agree strongly with Greg however where does all this “discussion” take us/me…….nowhere I think, as we are all of the view that our view and our religion is the correct one……That’s why we practice it..

    The issue that irks me is that I believe this type of discussion is worthwhile but how does one make it constructive and valuable for ones growth rather than a reactive word match that pushes all my emotional buttons about the injustices of this world!!!!!!!!

    I started to think of the eightfold path and the Right Speech I found this link

    This is the heart of it for me:

    Self-purification through well-chosen speech

    “And how is one made pure in four ways by verbal action?

    “There is the case where a certain person, abandoning false speech, abstains from false speech. When he has been called to a town meeting, a group meeting, a gathering of his relatives, his guild, or of the royalty, if he is asked as a witness, ‘Come & tell, good man, what you know’: If he doesn’t know, he says, ‘I don’t know.’ If he does know, he says, ‘I know.’ If he hasn’t seen, he says, ‘I haven’t seen.’ If he has seen, he says, ‘I have seen.’ Thus he doesn’t consciously tell a lie for his own sake, for the sake of another, or for the sake of any reward. Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech. He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world.

    “Abandoning divisive speech he abstains from divisive speech. What he has heard here he does not tell there to break those people apart from these people here. What he has heard there he does not tell here to break these people apart from those people there. Thus reconciling those who have broken apart or cementing those who are united, he loves concord, delights in concord, enjoys concord, speaks things that create concord.

    “Abandoning abusive speech, he abstains from abusive speech. He speaks words that are soothing to the ear, that are affectionate, that go to the heart, that are polite, appealing & pleasing to people at large.

    “Abandoning idle chatter, he abstains from idle chatter. He speaks in season, speaks what is factual, what is in accordance with the goal, the Dhamma, & the Vinaya. He speaks words worth treasuring, seasonable, reasonable, circumscribed, connected with the goal.

    “This is how one is made pure in four ways by verbal action.”

    It was worthwhile looking at and hopefully in future posts I can contribute in a way that is in harmony with the Dharma.

    • Wilc,
      These buttons are the ones that teach us the most if we can take the teachings into full account and observe. Even just once!
      What are the lines of “self” I am drawing here?
      I am not sure if this would help but,
      the Buddha’s teaching that every human being suffers in their minds, bodies and hearts, more or less like I do, really helps me (sometimes) to face people of a differentiated or difficult nature with more ease and less emotional weightiness.
      One time I was giving a presentation and, I suffer from rather serious anxiety once in a while when I have to get up to speak. I can completely lose my breath or blank out mentally. It is really rather horrible. I have gotten through it in recent years because of my practice.
      I had to present one time in Chile in front of a room full of PhDs and Ministers and mostly men. (I am none of these :-). At the time my meditation and general Dhamma practice were energized and upon entering the room I thought, well, how am I going to deal with this? I reached for the teachings and my faith and practice and experienced a glimpse of panna – that everyone in this room regardless of his or her title or nationality, suffers or will suffer in the same ways as I and each other. And they are all in this samsaric cycle, just like me. So really in the grand scheme of things, there is no difference between us – PhDs have anxiety, Ministers get nervous… And somehow all identity lines dissolved and I had no fear – only love for these strangers- and joy to be sitting – in total confidence and freedom – delivering my presentation. I am not really sure they heard what I said (it was nothing to write home about), but they loved it because there was a moment of compassion passing through me to them…this does not happen all of the time for me… but it can…at least, if it can happen one time – it can happen more than one time and in more than one situation…it is up to me to continue cultivating these skills…
      Our skills need to be tested too…
      I need to bring this moment of wisdom and skill into all of my speech, not just the ones I make in public but into all of my speech relationships including the the mental-keyboard-speech online! That is still kind of unreal to me…a big area for future development…
      Part of being in Sangha is to support each other in this path…
      (Its past 2 am so I hope this was not too much “idle chatter!”)
      Metta 🙂

    • Lisa

      Far from idle chatter for insightful and useful.

      I see the challenge as speaking/writing what i need to, as i feel that is important, but at the same time staying in step with the Dharma..Sujato does it very well.

      Considering all as fellow sufferers allows me to write from a perspective of compassion.



    • Thanks very much for this reference. “Thus he doesn’t consciously tell a lie for his own sake, for the sake of another, or for the sake of any reward. Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech. He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world.” — Justice Goldstone’s report on Gaza and other hard-gained documentation from UNHRC, AHRC, AI, Human Rights Watch et al are important because of the witnessing, telling the truth, often for those who could never hope to speak for themselves.

      During his quest for Buddhahood, the Bodhisatta did many things (and thus became “knower of worlds”), violated precepts galore, but never did he ever tell a lie. Lies are adhamma, they violate Dhamma.

  28. Wilc wrote — “The issue that irks me is that I believe this type of discussion is worthwhile but how does one make it constructive and valuable for ones growth rather than a reactive word match that pushes all my emotional buttons about the injustices of this world!!!!!!!!”

    Yes, I agree entirely Wilc, and also — speaking only for myself here of course — I don’t feel at all comfortable with discussing these matters on a Dhamma board, bearing in mind the levels of anger and deep sadness it generates in me.

    It all begins to feel like the idea of arguing in a monastery, just after meditation — Sujato’s board simply doesn’t feel the right place to do it.

    Again, that’s just my feeling — and I do bear in mind that I have been one of the more emotive posters on the entire thread anyway.

    So …

    Love and Pacificism !

    Here’s one final video that at least gives an optimisitc cast to the mood !

  29. I’ve learned from my wise teachers and guides that in true dhamma practice, nothing is to be left out; everything is included. Otherwise, we slip very easily into “spiritual bypassing,” reinforcing our self-view through bhava tanha and vibhava tanha.

    I am grateful beyond words to Bhante Sujato for his willingness to discuss the unpleasant topics which we all confront daily. If anger arises when discussing these topics, which would be the normal human response I’d hope, then it’s our practice to work with that anger in a skillful way.

    It may be easier to “feel” spiritual by avoiding topics that trigger “bad” feelings, however, since it’s both impossible to control much that arises in awareness, I believe we must open to what is and work on our own heart/minds to help alleviate the causes of suffering, for the benefit of all beings.

    • Thanks Sarana wise words

      I too believe that the topics that Bhante Sujato raises are important and need to be discussed. For me
      its not the bad feelings emotions that arise it is the the speech of the response and the emotion behind the response.

      The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius who was a stoic was purported to have said “that the way to defeat your enemies was to not become like them”

      Most argument or discussion is like a circle with no final answer and the participants go round and round each holding to their views and as such it is a pointless exercise, that only stirs the emotions and produces no results.

      We know that this world will always be as it is full of injustice and unfairness Suffering!!……yet we get angry or upset about specific incidents…isn’t that stupid? because what does getting angry or upset achieve? NOTHING other than to increase our own suffering. This does not mean that we should not “care” about or discuss these issues and events. The more I contemplate Lisa’s post the more I understand what the Buddha meant by compassion for if I can “care” and discuss through compassion, it will show in my “speech” and if others see the compassion and no menace in my speech then maybe they will listen.


    • “Most argument or discussion is like a circle with no final answer and the participants go round and round each holding to their views and as such it is a pointless exercise, that only stirs the emotions and produces no results.”

      However, we can become aware of these emotions and the desire for results. We can feel this pointlessness in our bodies. We can see how we want people and things to be different than they are.

      And with mindfulness, the circle with no final answer can lead us onwards.

      Everything changes, and compassion encourages us to work for a change that ends suffering. Sometimes we have to suffer the indifference and/or aversion of others along the way.

    • What I hear Greg expressing is “outrage”; a form of anger that is born out of empathy for the suffering of others and the sense of hopelessness one feels when we cannot do anything about it. After all, what is that saying “evil occurs when good men stand by and do nothing”…or something like that. I think we have to be careful (as Sarana states) to not put anger in the “bad basket” and happy and peaceful in the “good basket”. We and the world are way more complicated than that.
      I think IMO the problem is with the English langauge the word “anger” is so limited and simplistic. I think it needs to be broken into two parts: (1) the emotion of anger and how that affects us physiologically, and (2) the motivation that prompts us to anger; is the motivation to harm others or is it in empathy for others, and all the other kinds of motivations that can constitute anger. Anger when connected with the correct underlying motivation is not necessarily a bad thing. A Mother protecting her child for example….

      Well anger is a huge topic on its own and it is a beautiful sunny day here in Sydney and I am going to go to the beach and be grateful for the fact that I live in a country free of war, bombs, facism, etc. Not everyone in this world has the luxury of living in a peaceful country where food is in ample supply, and our only problem for the day may be the bus to work is running late 🙂

  30. Why are we talking about the excessive casualties in the Gaza invasion? Is there any evidence that the excessive casualties were motivated by religious fundamentalism? If not why are aspersions being cast that that is the case?

    You can’t blame fundamentalism for everything. There are other problems out there.

  31. The fact that there are dangerous fundamentalist views is not contended, but it seems that during the course of this discussion people began to get really uncomfortable with any suggestion or attempt to determine which groups and individuals it might apply to.

    Compassion is important, but acting paralyzed and being unwilling to call a spade a spade is to make passivity a virtue. This is a mistake, one especially harmful when fundamentalist trends begin to cause significant social ills as a result of the ideological hegemony they wield in their own sphere of influence.

    Compassion, in other words, informs the mental/verbal/physical acts of Loving-Kindness one performs, ensuring that to the best of ones ability such acts are wholesomely intended for the benefit of others and not for the aggrandizement of the self.

    This can result in the silent treatment if that seems to be the only way to maintain a compassionate environment, but it need not necessarily always be limited to such.

    [Additionally, through continuously building ones knowledge on the topic, one is able to say “this is fundamentalism; that is not” and thus avoid the problem to which Californian refers.]

  32. I can’t believe I am adding to this discussion, but this quote in your blog about allowing climate change skeptics to attend a conference caught my attention:

    “why should we give the skeptics a platform, as if they were presenting an actual reasonable interpretation of the science? It’s like allowing the Creationists to teach their myths next to Darwin in the science class.”

    As a reporter and editor for years I had been saying why, when ever reporting on a pro-gay group or someone who professes a gay positive attitude, must we give equal time to those who denigrate gay people as equal to animals, as hopeless sinners, as the outcasts of God? Why must a discussion about extending marriage equality pay any attention to those who decry such equality as an affront to their religious beliefs? Let them practice their faith the way they want; why do we need to give them a platform that in effect empowers their perspective with legitimacy?

    Thank you Sujato.

  33. “Why are we talking about the excessive casualties in the Gaza invasion? Is there any evidence that the excessive casualties were motivated by religious fundamentalism? If not why are aspersions being cast that that is the case?

    You can’t blame fundamentalism for everything. There are other problems out there.”

    Californian, unless you hadn’t noticed, fundamentalism is indeed, relevant to the Gaza massacre of 1,400 Arabs, who were brutalised by Zionist fundamentalists. Indeed, one Israeli soldier said the massacre was, and I quote directly, ” like kids burning ants with a magnifying glass”.

    And you mention ( ignorantly and callously I will add ) that “there are other problems out there” I find that statement profoundly insulting to the victims of the massacre — indeed, ‘they have problems’. The Christian and Muslim Arabs had their entire land stolen by Zionist fundamentalists, then they were herded into ghettos, much as the Warsaw Jews were, then they were consistently harassed, humiliated and starved, and then, they were in large numbers, even women and children, systematically murdered.

    You many think that is emotive language ( ‘murder, massacre’ etc ) but I will urge you again, to watch CHAPTER 11 Of Justice Goldstone’s Report.

    Californian, I am going to call your bluff — I will tell you straight, I think you are trolling here — you are a fundamentalist Christian, seeing how you can influence or effect Buddhists on a blog board. I am sorry to say, I am not in the slightest impressed by your form of Christianity and compassion thank you, and I am satisfied that my understanding ( and love of ) Jesus is not in any way going to be enhanced by your particular vision of Jesus’ Love.

    If you had any compassion, you would be weeping for the murdered children of Gaza, not whipping up more suspicion of Muslims as I read from your earlier posts.

    And if you think my view is ‘raving’, ‘pro Muslim’ and ‘radical’, then perhaps a Christian priest view of the sheer danger of American Zionist Fundamentalist Christianity might clarify things a little — I add the link here.

    • Greg :
      Californian, I am going to call your bluff — I will tell you straight, I think you are trolling here — you are a fundamentalist Christian, seeing how you can influence or effect Buddhists on a blog board.

      Settle down, Greg, and breath a little. The soapbox is looking flat. If Californian is a fundamentalist Christian, then I’m a Amish farmer.


    • Greg,
      Shortly after the Gaza attacks an email circulated with photos of the holocaust matched against photos of the occupation, photo for photo – soldier pointing gun at unarmed child…people coralled behind fences….people imprisoned…people being spit on…unarmed grandmothers being bayonetted…I wish I could find a link for it – but Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead McGuire (who is denied entry into Israel for her views) – has said, it is very much like the abused parent re-enacting the exact same abuse on the children – I think that vision is important because – as well as our own reinforcing of unskillful habits – there are the intergenerational effects of collective hatred and violence…and then there are societies and groups who have worked a way through that…(I believe this is relevant in our Sangha – what people live through and how conflict and change are dealt with have reverberating effects through broader communities and Sanghas that grow in the days and years to come)
      In my undergrad days my studies were focussed on the Middle-Eastern conflict, having grown up in a city (a bit like Paris only smaller) which is a microcosm of the conflict – significant Arab and Palestinian population, and significant Jewish population with summer homes in Israel. My studies really opened my eyes to the influence and the slant of Western media and education on our perspective of the world in which we live- and how closely coverage of international events follows the tone of the governing party of the day (US or Canada) in North America. (Party changes – tone of news changes overnight) It was a great lesson in geo-politcs and how religion can be used to whip up the identity card- which gives rise to violence so easily (in this case it is far more complex than religion – but I agree that is one of the catalytic forces behind much of the violence on either side- yet there are also external factors and broader geopolitical interests).
      What I wanted to share were two things. First, I found the truth of this conflict to be devastating – I felt myself particularly vulnerable to the injustice of it and the degree of influence international powers and voters can have on conflicts far far away – at one point I had to completely step back from the news coverage – because it was so upsetting (especially the time there was a massacre of Palestinians and the Israeli army immediately sent in refrigerator trucks to take the bodies/evidence away. I mean even Stephen King could not dream something like that up).
      In fact it was my study of this conflict that prompted me to withdraw almost completely from exposure to newspapers and TV, which in itself has ultimately decreased my day to day suffering immensely. (Media and systems of this age keep reinforcing atta – reinforcing identity and separation over and over…
      Second, I have a cousin who recently moved to Jerusalem. She posts every day on some of the most courageous stories of Israeli activists going to Ramallah to help rebuild houses, or help an Arab woman get into Jerusalem to visit family members; or hosting Israeli-Palestine youth-youth reconciliation dialogues. These stories rarely make the news – they are stories that bring great hope and a completely different perspective on the conflicts and the ability of people to get through them together…(they dissolve the notion of separation)
      Perhaps the most touching was recently seeing Gazan children 1 year after their homes and families were flattened by human hands – sending what little shreds they had- sweets and toys- to children in Haiti – who experienced similar (though on a larger scale) devastation at the hands of nature…
      It is important to know outrage… For my part, I make the decision: can my gifts and skill influence this situation? If yes, get energized, educated, organized and act. If not, if it is too distressing, put it aside, and focus on those areas where I can act skillfully and do the best I can. I am not active in M.E. studies, peace groups or projects any more – and I cannot bear to watch – so I include them in my prayers, I try to stay informed, generally, but I focus elsewhere, where my skills and patience remain in tact enough for me to act skillfully…
      Metta Metta Metta 🙂

    • Linda thank you. That was very relevant indeed.

      The best thing I got from reading this article by Bhikku Bodhi is that of offering kindness to the communities we are linked to. I found that rather useful in light of his argument that the usual kilesas, compounded by (to paraphrase Bhikku Bodhi) a general decline in kindness towards others has led some to try and find meaning through establishing a sense of identy by going back to their roots and that this sometimes expresses itself in forms of violence.

      I also loved the notion that even the private (as well as the public of course) practise of integrity and kindness has a resounding impact on the general well being of all beings.

      Thanks again Linda. 🙂

  34. Greg, you come across like you are purposefully twisting my words so as to arouse strong emotions in yourself. And you are explicitly putting words in my mouth (‘raving’, ‘pro Muslim’ and ‘radical’) that I never wrote.

    I didn’t say that the Gaza massacre was not a problem. I said that religious fundamentalism was not the motivation for it. There are other (social) problems out there besides religious fundamentalism. Pointing this out is neither “ignorant” nor “callous”. In fact, trying to view all problems through the same lens is never a good idea.

    And no, I am not a Christian trolling. However, you have now blamed Christianity (or, it seems from your tone, the Elders or Christendom) for multiple things in the world, from Western support of the Saudi government to my posts on this blog, which it is innocent of. This indicates a certain paranoia and insecurity regarding Christianity, to me. Maybe I’m wrong.

    I’ll also make a general point, that compassion is freeing, not constricting. If it makes you feel bad it’s not compassion.

  35. Recently…well a few weeks ago anyway…I decided to google Bhikkuni Sudhamma (cos I Loved her response to Aj Thanissaro’s letter…back in what’s starting to feel a bit like the distant past)…

    Anyway I came across her home vihara and read that the Vihara she lives at is in an area that ‘is often called “the buckle of the Bible Belt” for its loyalty to Christianity, yet the Vihara has been welcomed by the general community, and is well-supported by local people.’

    I’d like to echo what Lisa said in her (thanks so much for sharing) tale of the Chilean presentation… The challenge (it is a challenge for me) is to link into what another person has in common with us… the quest for happiness, the fear of hurt, the suffering of life…

    As a person who would happily spend a lot of her life without seeing too many folk… I find it a great challenge to engage with others sometimes…especially when I know their value systems are fundamentally (no pun intended) different from mine. The challenge for my practise is to find the common ground and work from there. Everyday that I am at work, this is the main part of my practise. It hasn’t been easy. I remember in years gone by coming home, going into my mediation room and crying and crying and crying… But I’m starting to see the rewards now…When I am alone, I like myself better…much better… I think it could be because I have learned to like that which I find hard to accept in others, so when I see it in myself, it’s not that much of a stretch to like/accept/have metta for it.

    And when I am negative, angry, unwholesomely emotional…I still like myself; most of the time…the rest of the time it takes me a while but I eventually come round to liking my self again. It is a small miracle for me that i can like myself in such situations. It is a small miracle for me that I can have a heated arguement with someone, find my way to acceptance of myself, forgiveness, reconciliation with the other; it is amazing to me that instead of hating myself I start to see the workings of anatta, dukkha and anicca. I start to see the way out in looking at the nitty gritty details of the 8 fold path.

    It helps of course that the person I may disagree with has the same world view…in this case a Buddhist world view… That person meets me halfway… This is the value of the kalyana mitta. We help each other because we understand so easily through the same Dhamma… I reflect on this almost everyday…that I am lucky…lucky to be able to practise with good friends… Lucky to be able to grow stronger slowly so that when I am not with good friends I am better prepared.

    So sitting here at my computer, being, this time, the person that’s not so involved in the thread; I can contribute by reading the posted comments with gentleness and I hope that helps. Just as I am sure…so sure…that those of you who may have read my heated comments (in other threads) with gentleness would have helped me. I love the idea of inter-connection; it helps me understand kamma a tiny bit; especially after watching the documentary/movie ‘What the Bleep’ which shows scientific evidence of inter-connection and how we can affect each other from afar…

    All this is amazing to me. And so what happens is that my faith grows.

    Faith moves mountains as the old saying goes. Perhaps some ‘fundamentalists’ get their energy from this emotion. Perhaps they know very well how to harness the power of this emotion. Maybe that is something we can learn from them.

    A Christian prayer that i rather like is ‘Lord give me the wisdom to accept that which i cannot change and the strength to change that which I can change.’ I hope I got the right. Perhaps as Buddhists we can look at that prayer with different eyes…seek to change what we can on the outside but look at the harder but more do-able, challenge of seeing what we can change on the inside.

    Thanks everyone for all your comments. I know it’s not always easy to share.

    I find the challenges we face as practising Buddhists are best met when we don’t expect ourselves (and others too I guess) to meet and overcome these challenges all the time. Wishing everyone all the best. Happy meditating, at ease with yourselves as you are. I wish the world were different in this time, with more grace and kindness; but it wouldn’t be samsara if my mere wishing could change it. But I still have hope. Because of the small miracles of my own small life. Because of the 4th Noble Truth and the 3rd one too…

    Metta metta metta 🙂

  36. Dear all

    I just re-read my post….

    I don’t wish to give a false impression…

    I did not mean this literally/immediately: “And when I am negative, angry, unwholesomely emotional…I still like myself”

    It takes a bit of reflection first!!! Sometimes it takes a longer time before even the period of reflection sets in; such are the ways of a grumpy Buddhist character!!! 🙂

    From personal experience, it does help the grumpy Buddhist mightyly if he or she has at least one close friend who will offer total forgiveness! That’s how I learned how to love myself and what that would actually feel like…twas a revelation to me…I’d never felt it before…this was a precious gift from a precious kalyana mitta. One of my fears is that I may fail in passing it on. But I guess, as usual, I can only put in the causes and the rest is up to… well it’s not necessarily up to me!!! 🙂

    Happy blogging and/or happy blog-reading, metta metta metta…again…:)

    • Thay says (I paraphrase!) Hello my anger, I know you are there, I see you. I promise I will take care of you…and to hold the negative arising just as we would hold a new born baby…(it’s a pretty tough image at first!)
      …I hold myself when I am ill or injured…ah, this wonderful body that has served me so well, I will stop everything and pay attention and take care of you…and with smaller events like the flu or a torn knee…I surrender completely and care for myself…and suffering decreases…
      …now how would it be to care for anger … mistakes…anxieties in the same way?

    • Dearest Lisa

      How utterly lovely and completely practical.

      Ajahn Brahm teaches a strikingly similar approach.

      I tried your years to practise this way but the technique only came alive for me when someone practised it back to me when I got angry with them. It was a major first. And a powerful example of the Dhammapada saying: Hatred is not overcome by hatred. Hatred is overcome by love.

      Thank you again so much for sharing. Metta.

  37. Barbara OBrian, in her MahaBlog, had a very interesting discussion last May that seems to be apt here.

    Empaths and Sociopaths
    May 29, 2009

    This used to be a staple scene in action films, as I’m sure you know ­ a scary thing happens, and the woman the hero is in love with screams and freezes in helpless terror. Then the hero, cool as scotch on the rocks, steps in and vanquishes the scary thing and saves her. On to the kissing scene.

    Many years ago I read a behavioral study that said, if anything, women are slightly less likely to panic and freeze in the face of danger than men are. And when you consider that men are something like ten times more likely to commit homicides than women ­ murder most often is an act of rage, I believe ­ you might suspect that men are at the mercy of their emotions at least as much as women.

    But we can’t have hysterical men and brave, cool women in films because it doesn’t take us to the kissing scene nearly as easily, does it?

    Also many years ago, I realized that when a man said his views were “logical” and mine were “emotional,” the word logical (used in context) meant “what I want,” or “what I believe,” with the underlying assumption that the wants and beliefs of a man are the correct, standard or default, wants and beliefs, and those of a woman are controversial, subjective and/or alternative. This was true regardless of the merits of the man’s position. The want or belief became “logical” by virtue of maleness. “Logic” was something like a trump card played by a man against a woman whenever he couldn’t think of a better argument.

    I don’t see the male/female, logical/emotional dichotomy publicly expressed nearly as much as I used to, and younger women may not have run into it as much as I did. But it hasn’t entirely gone away, has it?

    This correlates to the idea that whites favoring other whites is not ethnic bias, because whiteness is a default norm; what Publius calls the “invisible baseline” fallacy. In this view, bias occurs only when one deviates from the default norm.

    Since the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, many arguments for and against her have turned on the question of whether a judge should have “empathy.” Yes, say some, because it helps her see how her decisions affect real people in the real world. No, say others, empathy and emotion are biases that blur the cold logic of the law.

    But I say that if you step away and look at the question a little more broadly, the truth is that the decisions of every judge who doesn’t happen to be an out-and-out sociopath are being shaped by empathy. The distinction is, to whom is the judge feeling empathetic?

    My view is that everything we think comes from a complex of psychological discriminations and impulses, little of which have anything to do with “logic.” The way we understand ourselves and the world begins to be shaped from the moment we’re born and continues to be shaped by the culture we grow up and live in. In other words, all of our understandings are biased. This is pervasive and inescapable. Often the difference between “logical” and “empathic” people is that an “empathic” person has at least a dim appreciation of his own biases, whereas a “logical” person is utterly oblivious to them.

    This week Nicholas Kristof wrote a column about the difference between how liberals and conservatives relate to the world, and how much of these differences emanate from our prefrontal cortex, which “has more to do with moralizing than with rationality.” Our “logical” thoughts actually begin with the “moral” impulses. “It appears that we start with moral intuitions that our brains then find evidence to support.”

    Human brains seem to be wired in a way that makes us want to join tribes and be part of an “us” that stands against an “other.” But if we get to know an “other” personally, they seem less strange and foreign and may cease to be an “other.”

    “Minds are very hard things to open, and the best way to open the mind is through the heart,” Professor Haidt says. “Our minds were not designed by evolution to discover the truth; they were designed to play social games.”

    Thus persuasion may be most effective when built on human interactions. Gay rights were probably advanced largely by the public’s growing awareness of friends and family members who were gay.

    Our minds were not designed by evolution to discover the truth; they were designed to play social games. When John Yoo wrote memos that rationalized torture, he was not being “logical.” He was playing a social game and empathizing with his tribe. When John Roberts makes decisions that are blatantly biased in favor of corporations over individuals, he is playing a social game and empathizing with his tribe.

    You see the picture ­ to some people, empathy is only “empathy” when it’s being shown to people who are not the default norm, or the invisible baseline, or whatever you want to call it. Otherwise, it’s “logical.”

    I know my fingers may fall off as I keyboard this, but in his column today David Brooks has a pretty decent description of how the “logical” decision-making process really works. Our conscious, cognitive understandings of things are based on internalized models of what we’ve been conditioned to believe is “normal.” We may be able to articulate our ideas and perceptions in a coolly logical way, but the process by which we arrive at our ideas and perception is “complex, unconscious and emotional.” This is always true, whether we want to admit it or not.

    So it is that two different and equally intelligent people may look at the same set of facts in a case and apply the same set of laws and come to different conclusions. They are working from different internal models of what the world is supposed to be. From this their judgments about which facts in the case are critical and which are not may be entirely different.

    Brooks asks if Sotomayor is able to understand her biases as biases. This I cannot know. I’d like to think that people who have been the victims of bias are more capable of recognizing their own biases, but in my experience that is often not so. However, I do think that people with a healthy appreciation for empathy may also have more appreciation for the genuine messiness of human decision making than those who ­ foolishly ­ see themselves as “logical.”

    Going back to the hysterical women and cool-headed men in films, and how that is so not like the real world ­ my observation is that women may tend to be better at processing emotions than men. That is, when a woman is frightened, she is less surprised ­ caught off guard, if you will ­ at being frightened than a man might be.

    This is a gross generalization that cannot be applied to individuals; lots of men process emotions more skillfully than lots of women. However, I think there is a tendency for men to be less accepting of and intimate with their own emotions, and this may be as much nurture as nature; cultural rather than physiological.

    What’s critical about emotions is not whether you have them, but whether you let them jerk you around and make you act in ways that are not in your best interests. And by any objective measure I’d say men self-destruct at least as much as women do. Logical, my ass

    • I haven’t read the research myself, but I understand that the modern trend in psychology is to see emotion and logic as supporting and enabling each other, rather than combating. The emotion/logic distinction in the west is, I believe, essentially the same as the samatha/vipassana dispute in Theravada, reframed in different contexts.

  38. Jason,

    if you consider my concern about 1,400 people murdered, and the possibility of war with Iran a “soapbox” cause, I have to wonder why you are an anagarika — perhaps you simply aren’t aware these events are all over the news these days? Can I reccomend you read the press sometime, beyond Foxx, CNN and Yahoo news? You might learn a little about what is happening outside your cave, and who is hurting who. Perhaps spending hours wondering whether it’s better to follow your breath at your navel, or follow the breath at your nostrils is more your thing though.

    As for me, I consider being concerned about the fate of murdered women and children a little more worthy and compassionate.

    Don’t let me disturb your navel gazing though. Where do you notice your breathe’s rise and fall incidentally ? At the nostrils? At the belly? I wish you blissful dizziness Jason. Cosmic….

    • Greg,

      By way of ‘The soapbox is looking flattened’, I was indicating that it was inappropriate (and pushing the bounds of plausibility given his/her track record on this blog) to to accuse Californian of being a Christian fundamentalist, and how you have lost much credibility by doing so.

      Your presumptions as to the content of my reading, whether I care for the suffering for others, my motivations for being an anagarika, and style of meditation practice are similarly curious.

      Your wish that I suffer from dizziness is hurtful.

      I have no issue with and support your compassion for others. I disagree with you using compassion has an excuse for being discourteous on this blog.


    • Dear Greg

      This is not quite the Greg I have seen in this Blog, and I’m rather surprised by this unexpected scorn for Jason’s practices. I hope it arose from some disagreeable food or inclement weather, and you can let it pass.

  39. Sarana :Enjoy the beach Anne! It’s snowing here in Colorado.

    Thanks Sarana……enjoy the peaceful serenity of snow falling and hope you get to go skiing too (or snowboarding) 🙂

  40. roni :
    TED Talk by Prof. Haidt:

    Roni – That is a brilliant talk. Thank you for pointing it out here. Particularly I liked the idea of needing both kind of population to create a whole.
    Someone once said an interesting sentence to me- he said “Religious people hold the bible like a candle, they care so much for it that they forgot to run with the time. Secular people run with the time but in doing so abandoned the candle all together.
    We need to find a way to run with the time while holding the candle and keeping the flame.”
    I liked that metaphor. And I sure hope we all learn how to do that.

  41. Greg, Jason is a renunciant. You’re only causing yourself suffering by getting worked up about something you can’t change. I don’t know if Jason has had the same reaction to the Gaza massacre you have or not, but either way, requiring others to share in pointless suffering and criticizing them went they don’t is very unskillful and inappropriate. Jason is living the holy life. Please keep that in mind. His practice should be his first concern. The practice of renunciants should also be a concern for any Buddhists. The lay community is supposed to support the renunciants. If you don’t want to do that, you don’t have to, but that is a large part of being a lay Buddhist. Do you really not approve of people renouncing the world and living the holy life? If you want to criticize the very foundation of Buddhism there are many other websites for you to visit.

    Have you read the Dhammapada? How about verse 166?

    “Don’t give up your own welfare
    for the sake of others’ welfare, however great.
    Clearly know your own welfare
    And be intent on the highest good.” (Gil Fronsdal’s translation)

    Helping others may be for your own welfare, but only if it comes from a place of freedom, not compulsion.

    When others suffer, unless you are causing it, that is their kamma and you don’t actually owe them anything (unless you have a kammic debt to that person), including pity. It took me a while to work my mind around that idea when a wise monk first told it to me, but it is true, and very liberating.

    Compassion does not come from a compulsion to feel sorry for someone. And not having compassion is not something you can criticize others for. It is like criticizing someone for not having equanimity. It just doesn’t make sense.

    Misery loves company seems to be what’s going on here. Asking others to share in your pointless suffering is highly destructive to relationships. I have been the company too many times myself.

    • Ah, Californian, are you actually trying to give Theravada Buddhism a bad name? All self-development, all selfishness? No compassion, no loving-kindness, no sympathetic joy, no real equanimity — only callousness?

      Your statement, “When others suffer, unless you are causing it, that is their kamma and you don’t actually owe them anything (unless you have a kammic debt to that person), including pity. It took me a while to work my mind around that idea when a wise monk first told it to me, but it is true, and very liberating.” is an appalling one for so many reasons.

      In this political world, as a Californian, supporting Israel against any charges of fundamentalism, you might justifyably be said to be causing the suffering of those in Gaza.

      I’ll bet it’s very liberating to feel that you have no responsibility for anyone else’s suffering. How comfortable the idea that you don’t owe anything to anybody, including pity.

      Oh, wait … that’s not Theravada Buddhism, that’s capitalism (or pornography.)

  42. Bhante,

    Regarding that brochure – it is a reprint of some web sites that have been around for a while. If you look in the file’s properties you can see that “kwang.meng” was the author. A little Google work shows that there is a Kwang Meng who is a childrens’ pastor at “Grace Assembly Of God Singapore”

    Ven Dhammika has some posts on current events in Singapore WRT Christian fundamentalist evangelicals.



  43. The discussion between friends Greg and Californian, especially the last comments of Californian bought to my mind the possible difference in focus between Theravada Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. I am not an expert on the scriptures of either so forgive me – and I hope wiser and more learned minds will comment and explain this to me – but on the face of it – the Tibetan Buddhists have the idea of the bodhisatva, the one who hears the cries of the world, and that no one is seperate from anyone else, that we should care for all beings, and that you cannot achieve enlightenment unless you open your heart to all beings. I’m sure Ajahn Sujato or Anagarika Jason can straighten me out here, if this is a very simplistic rendering of the difference – but somehow, I don’t feel comfortable – I don’t know what is or is not someone’s kamma, so how can I choose whether to help them or not on that basis. Anyhow, with great respect to Greg and Californian, I’m very interested in this question. I think it’s a good point. With much metta to all brothers and sisters on this blog.

    • Yes, I would like to hear what Bhante can tell us about this, at least how it stands now. I know that in antiquity, the Bodhisatta ideal existed in Theravadin monasteries. Gil Fronsdal, a learned lay teacher in the states wrote his PhD dissertation on this, using evidence from the Chinese. I wonder if now it’s part of the sectarianism.

  44. When he was Sumedha he had the capacity for enlightenement but made an aspiration, in the presence of the Buddha of that world age and received a prediction that he would indeed become Gotama Buddha.

    Countless lives lived as a Bodhisatta, practicing the Ten Perfections (Mahayana has another number), and under the Bodhi tree in Buddhagaya he achieved his goal and the rest is history.

  45. A good blog Ajahn – you have brought out some very valuable points – the common themes between fundamentalism & pornography – basically how both de-humanize and objectify.

    Those involved in both need others to carry their un resolved fear, hatred, lust – usually they are wounded and unresloved people and have internal splits and shadows that they can’t own up to. They control the world around them through intimidation and fear. They repress their own potential for vulnerability and openness through internalized dogma and idealization.

    My perspective is that one should be very careful when engaging fundamentalists – the holding of wise boundaries is most appropriate – they can really damage and wound others, without ever taking any ownership of their actions.

    This world has always had fundamentalists who hold tightly to their identities and their fragile sense of power at the expense of so much beauty, goodness, love and creativity.

    Best then to focus on ‘watering the living seeds’ of that which is healthy rather than trying to bring life into that which is dry and rigid.

    Last thought re discussions on this blog – surely ‘self’ cultivation and compassionate and wise and compassionate response within the world are not mutually exclusive?

  46. Oh … crap. I stuffed up on the quotations before. This is what it should look like (I now feel Kester’s pain). Bhante, can you delete the other one, please?

    Visakha Kawasaki :
    Ah, Californian … All self-development, all selfishness? No compassion, no loving-kindness, no sympathetic joy, no real equanimity — only callousness?

    Ummm … I suspect that this is somewhat overstated, and not quite what Californian was getting at.

    But its a common misunderstanding when the dichotomy between practice for self and practice for others is raised, and so worth discussing.

    In brief, I think Californian’s point is that it is not the polarised dichotomy that it is made out to be – it only appears to be the case when not seen ‘from a place of freedom’.

    But I’m sure Californian can speak for himself, and can put it much better than me.


  47. juzzeau :
    … and silence can the best option (although not as a weapon, better as a tacit space of truce or tact).

    There’s a nuance I hadn’t considered. Tricky to negotiate it reality – which is what makes it interesting and fun, btw.

    Thanks for your comments, Jason. Yes, it’s true, I’ve been out and proud about my gay rights fundamentalism since my last lifetime at least :). I’ve also thought of another word starting with t to add to my little riff on silence: “a tacit space of truce or tact from which trust can grow.” At this stage, I’m resisting the temptation to introduce the image of a lettuce into this definition 🙂

    • Oh damn, html script is also something that’s very tricky to negotiate… For people wondering what on earth is going on here, the sentence in the middle is from Jason, replying to a quote from my earlier post, above.

    • juzzeau,

      Inspired by your use of lettuce, I’ve decided to represent myself with a durian (my thanks to Blake for showing me how to get an avatar).


  48. Visakha,

    You are misrepresenting me. I did not support Israel’s actions in any way. I said only that they were not motivated by religious fundamentalism. It is a very complex situation over there and I’m certainly no expert, but it seems to me that the atrocities mentioned here were motivated by bloodthirstiness.

    About compassion, what I’m suggesting is that compassion opens up the heart. If you feel forced to help someone it isn’t really freely given. It may have the effect of closing the heart off further. I have had some bad experiences with my emotions being manipulated by others and I know that doing something because you feel sorry for someone can definitely be the wrong thing to do for both parties. And there are certain kinds of damaged, suffering people who routinely play on others’ feelings of pity to get themselves through life. It is a sad situation, but giving these people what they want doesn’t help them or you. I have learned this through personal experience.

    I may have stated things in terms that were too black and white. That is, contrary to what I wrote before, if an act (thought, word, or deed) on someone else’ behalf comes from a feeling of compulsion it may still be somewhat liberating. Depending on the quality of the intention, it would have a mixed result, I think. This is an issue I’m dealing with now and so I jumped on it a little bit. But I do think I raised a valid point.

    My ideal of compassion is knowing that you don’t have to do something for someone and doing it anyway so that that person may be well. And for me personally, coming to realize that others are responsible for their own lives, and that I am not responsible for them, has actually allowed me to have more feelings of compassion, because I am not afraid of being trapped by feelings of helpless pity towards them anymore. That’s just my own experience.

    • Again, a reply replete with wisdom.

      I really worry when Buddhists attempt to legislate the Brahmaviharas. Yes, they may indeed be lofty stations of mind, but does the Buddha’s praise of them denote ethical judgement?

      Perhaps there is something to be learnt about the Buddha’s attitude to compassion as recorded in the Abhayarajakumara Sutta, MN 58. I seriously doubt if any of us are capable of the Buddha’s compassion that will “draw blood”, unless we have the same kind of intuition or knowledge of a Buddha.

      Instead of just focussing on the alleged compassion or alleged indifference, perhaps it may be more useful to look at the roots of what we feel. Eg, when euthanising a pet, can we honestly say our “compassion” was driven by non-greed, non-hatred? Or was the euthanasia motivated by our aversion to seeing pain and suffering?

    • Dear California,

      It has been instructive to reread your posts. In the very beginning you worked hard to frame the discussion as one of Christian fundamentalism vs. Muslim fundamentalism. Further you tried to persuade us that “Christian fundamentalism is not a real problem for this world. Christian fundamentalists are really the least of the world’s worries. Islamic fundamentalism is far more invidious, yet these ideologies are criticized far less often.”

      That is not true; it is a lie; it is an extremely dangerous lie. If you innocently believe that you have been brainwashed. If you are trying to spread that belief, that might well be why you were called a troll even though you identified yourself as with me and others as “we liberals” Whatever else you are, you are not a species of liberal that I recognize.

      Several people jumped to your defense. I certainly don’t know you, but I am amazed that you have gotten away with your defense of the attack on Gaza as having nothing to do with fundamentalism. If that brutality wasn’t at the behest of fundamentalism, then fundamentalism has no meaning. Please read Prof. Juan Cole’s Informed Comment or the Independent’s Robert Fisk to learn what Israel is doing and why (to the dismay and distress of her own liberals).

      Have you managed to derail the discussion of fundamentalism by blanketly excusing Christian fundamentalists and Israeli racists/zealots? Since when was documentation of the attack on Gaza (with white phosphorus) a farce? Ah, quote the Israeli ambassador? Thanks for your reassurance that a unilateral strike on Iran won’t happen. Gee, I feel so secure.

      Your comment, “If you want a quantitative comparison of invidiousness, compare the body counts for Islamic fundamentalism vs. Christian” is disgusting. More than a million Iraqis have died since Mr. Bush the younger started his war. Actually that is pornographic, isn’t it.

      Nobody needs to twist your words — your words are already quite twisted. The war in Iraq has often enough been called a crusade. How is it paranoia to see Christian fundamentalism behind it.

      Are we now to just muddle around discussing whose idea of compassion is the more profound, yours or mine or someone elses?

      When you wrote “And for me personally, coming to realize that others are responsible for their own lives, and that I am not responsible for them, has actually allowed me to have more feelings of compassion….” I have to wonder. Misery loves company you say — I have seen no indication of what you might possibly mean by compassion.

      I grew up in a liberal atmosphere and my daddy warned me against the ideology that people always get what they deserve. Isn’t that Christian fundamentalism of the hardest nosed Protestant sort. No health care for those who can’t afford it. Foreclose if people ca’t pay their mortgages. Collateral damage. You can’t make an omlet without breaking eggs. Destroy the village to save it. Show no pity. And now we can do it all by drone so “nobody” is responsible.

    • Well said, Visakha — fundamentalism is the most serious damger to all of us, and I specifically select Zionism and fundamentalist Christianity,both of which are materialistic, colonial, violent, hegemonic,and deeply prejudicial, and if Nazism had to be stopped then we must resist these two evils. Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein desrcibed Israel’s actions in Gaza as Satanic. I agree — please watch the following Jewish Holocaust survivors’ message about Zionism — wake up everyone. Look, it’s not rocket science — just stop killing Arabs.

  49. Hello Calafornian, I can see where you are coming from now. This is the difficulty with writing on bloggs as opposed to speaking face to face. Of course, if you are living with someone who is destroying their own life through alchohol consumption or taking drugs, there is only so much one can do, and we should not make ourselves ill trying to save them. But I don’t think that what is morally acceptable – or even enshrined in the law – is that we are always free to choose when to be compassionate. Society and the law have expectations. When we have children, we are expected to care for them property – its not a choice based on whether we feel like it. When someone is drowning – and we know how to swim and can help them – its ‘reckless indifference’ not to help. When people are poor and we earn lots of money, it’s our duty to pay our taxes so that other may be supported. If our husband and father of our children becomes disabled, is it really our choice whether we care for him or not. There is an expectation that people in families do care for each other and there is an expectation that we care for people we don’t know by paying our taxes, because we are all connected to one another and cannot ignore what is happening to each other. As the second ghost visiting Scrooge says in Dicken’s ‘Christmas Carol’ – mankind is you business. We had a short discussion on earlier bloggs about relativism and moral relativism. This is obviously a huge subject, and I don’t know how to express it properly, but I think that compassion is more than an individual choice. Though I completely agree with Californian, that there are limits to how much a person can do without damaging themselves. Nothing is ever black or white. Sorry for my overlong reply, but I find this very interesting. Thank you and metta to everyone.

  50. Visakha, from what I know of your refugee work with Burmese people, I knew you’d have some spirit, and would not just be a resigned Buddhist —

    Have you seen the following on the Zionist destruction of Jenin ? Please check it out — I hope that Buddhists will please wake up to others pain. I have been a Buddhist for around twenty years, and I feel ao alienated when I see fellow Buddhists eyes just glaze over when these issues are mentioned. “Don’t hassle me man, it’s all just Dukkha, just breatheeee…..”

    Other people’s suffering must stop. Stop the fundamentalists.

  51. Visakha, you may also be interested in Professor Norman Finkelstein’s debate about Gaza massacre here — ( Finkelstein’s entire family besides his parents was wiped out in the holocaust ).

    You will notice that the Israeli he debates says his family setlled Israel with a gun in one hand, a Bible in the other. Now if that isn’t dangerous fundamentalism….

    Love and Light, Greg.

  52. Californian wrote —

    “Buddhism most certainly is a missionary, proselytising religion. Are you unaware of Buddhist missions from India to Bactria, China, Sri Lanka, etc?”

    Buddhism had not been a proselytising religion for decades, probably centuries, and has nothing like the ( often negative) record of the three Abrahamic faiths in that dept.

    Californian wrote –“I found the ( End Days/ Rapture) video to be more of a farce. As the Israeli ambassador pointed out, the person who is out there most actively trying to bring about the end of times is Ahmadinejad.”

    Clearly you didn’t watch it — EVERY ONE OF THE Christians in the video made their apocalyptic ( dare I say bloodthirsty , violent and psychotic ) desire clear — please re watch it. These Christian ( and Israeli ) people ( in the video ) are no more than money grabbing, violent, ignorant, stooges and warmongers. How you can defend them is staggering to me.

    Californian wrote –“Sure, Israeli settlers are a threat to world peace. But they’re not killing people.”

    Did you not watch the Goldstone Report, in which Justice Gold stone found that 1,400 Arabs were murdered? 14 Israelis died — some from friendly fire.

    Californian wrote –“Islamic fundamentalists are out there killing people, mutilating girls, and throwing acid on their faces for going to school as we speak.”

    I think you’ll find that in my earlier posts I stated that totally rejected Wahhabi fundamentalist Islam too — your mistake is implcitly, that you seem to think Muslims ‘deserve what they get’ somehow,and that will in some way ‘stop the violence’, whilst I don’t take sides — I am against all harming. You don’t stop war and killing by justifying more harm and killing.

    Californian said — “The behaviour of Western leaders toward Saudi Arabia is not relevant to this discussion. Their behaviour is motivated by economic rather than religious motives.”

    It is deeply relevant — the worst , most reactionary, most repressive, harmful,and ignorant Islamic fundamentalism is exported DIRECTLY from Saudi — we prop them up, never challenge them, and grovel before them. If you want to tackle the grossest forms of fundamentalism, that’s where USA/Europe needs to look — not in ghettos in Palestine or on the Lebanese borders.

    Californian said — “it seems that you are not familiar with the second-class citizen status mandated for Jews and Christians under Sharia (which was the law there until the middle of the 19Th century),”

    No, you see you are plain wrong again — if you read Jewish scholar, Bernard Lewis, he makes it plain that the Arab World was in no way as anti Semitic as Europe — he states unequivocally that we Europeans invented anti semitism. The system you mention is the Dhimmi Jizya system, but Jews were generally treated favourably in Arab lands; so much so, that when the Jews were being persecuted under the Spanish Inquisition, they sought and gained refuge in Ottoman lands, as well as in Iraq and Persia. And don’t forget that prior to the founding of Israel, there was a Jewish community that thrived in Iraq, Iran and Egypt and Lebanon for up to 2,000 years. ( If it had been that bad, they’d have left. ) You see, most of the literature that says Jews were also persecuted in Arab lands is Ashkenazim ( European Jewish) commentary — Mizrahim/Shephardim ( Arab ) Jews themselves ( and they should know ) have written that they suffered little discrimination in Arab lands. Check Iraqi Jewish scholar Avi Shlaim for more info. In fact, Ashkenazim ( European Jews ) were deeply prejudiced against the Arab Jews — for more, read “The Fateful Triangle” by Jewish scholar, Noam Chomsky,read Avi Shlaim the Iraqi Jewish Scholar “The Iron Wall” aswell as Jewish scholars Illan Pappe, Zeev Sternhell,Benny Morris and Israel Shahak — they show the extent to which European Jews discriminated against Arab Jews.

    Californian said – “And it’s not “just” the Wahabbis and Taliban. There are wars or insurgencies going on in many parts of the world that are motivated by Islamic fundamentalism. If you want a quantitative comparison of invidiousness, compare the body counts for Islamic fundamentalism vs. Christian. It’s not even close. Shouldn’t this be what we care about first and foremost?”

    Body counts? Where do you get this stuff from ? CNN? Fox News? Yahoo News? Anyway, two wrongs never made a right — what kind of morality says ( like Israel ) “well, Israel only killed 1,400 people, but how many did the Somalians kill? Why don’t you blame them eh ? Israel only displaced hundreds of thousands, what about the Chinese in Tibet?”
    But That is blind morality, not the morality of Jesus or the Buddha, or the morality of any just plain good human being.

  53. One brilliant way to deal with fundamentalists and pornographers is … SNARK. One of my favorite blogs is
    Jesus General and it serves up extremism so over the top that it’s an outrage, except that fundamentalists probably don’t get it. The original quote or point of view is authentic home-grown fundamentalism, just carried to its logical extreme. So much the snarkier for the rest of us. For example, this on birth defects …. and as you sow so shall ye reap:

    Here’s an example — hoo boy, Virginia’s own Bob Marshall.

    Tuesday, February 23, 2010
    The Scarlet Child
    Del. Bob Marshall
    Virginia House of Delegates

    Dear Del. Marshall,

    As a biblical literalist, I applaud you for your courageous declaration that God punishes wicked women by giving their babies birth defects. It’s about time someone told the truth about the handicapped–far from being “special,” they are punishments, very visible punisments–little scarlet babies announcing to the world that their mothers are adultresses and murderers, .

    But are you ready to confront such women and denounce them for their sins? Is that not the purpose of a scarlet letter? How will these women understand the gravity of their crimes if they are not made to despise themselves for prompting the Lord to curse them with a special-needs child?

    What about Sarah Palin? Have you spoken with her? What was her sin?

    Heterosexually yours,

    Gen. JC Christian, patriot

  54. Visakha Kawasaki :
    Dear California,

    Several people jumped to your defense. I certainly don’t know you, but I am amazed that you have gotten away with your defense of the attack on Gaza as having nothing to do with fundamentalism. If that brutality wasn’t at the behest of fundamentalism, then fundamentalism has no meaning.

    So you think that designating another cause for brutality is defending it? how exactly?
    And what do you mean by “If that brutality wasn’t at the behest of fundamentalism, then fundamentalism has no meaning.”? Do you deny the possibility of brutality that is not caused by fundamentalism? And how does appointing a different cause to brutality takes all the meaning out of fundamentalism?
    I have to admit you lost me there.

    Have you managed to derail the discussion of fundamentalism by blanketly excusing Christian fundamentalists and Israeli racists/zealots? Since when was documentation of the attack on Gaza (with white phosphorus) a farce? Ah, quote the Israeli ambassador? Thanks for your reassurance that a unilateral strike on Iran won’t happen. Gee, I feel so secure.

    The video that Californian referred to as a farce is this:

    and it is has nothing to do with attacks on Gaza or any other atrocity. Why don’t you have a look at it …….

    The quote of the Israeli Ambassador that Californian pointed to said nothing about reassuring you that a unilateral strike is not going to happen. I assume you are referring to another section of the ambassador’s talk………But that is not the part Californian was referring to. I wonder if that doesn’t count as putting words in someone’s mouth……….

    Nobody needs to twist your words — your words are already quite twisted. The war in Iraq has often enough been called a crusade. How is it paranoia to see Christian fundamentalism behind it.

    I actually see a lot of twisting going here – but that just might be my personal observation.

    Are we now to just muddle around discussing whose idea of compassion is the more profound, yours or mine or someone elses?

    I don’t think Californian was trying to compare ideas of compassions but rather point out that one can’t be forced to feel compassion or be criticised for the lack of it. Saying that by not feeling compassion towards the victim you support the crime or the perpetrator is taking the observer’s responsibility just a little bit too far (especially when he observes from literally thousand of miles away).

    When you wrote “And for me personally, coming to realize that others are responsible for their own lives, and that I am not responsible for them, has actually allowed me to have more feelings of compassion….” I have to wonder. Misery loves company you say — I have seen no indication of what you might possibly mean by compassion.

    Feeling responsible and feeling compassion are two very different things and renouncing the feeling of responsibility when there is non is not a wrong thing to do – one does not necessarily loose compassion in the process and yes sometimes helps in feeling even more compassion

    No health care for those who can’t afford it. Foreclose if people ca’t pay their mortgages. Collateral damage. You can’t make an omlet without breaking eggs. Destroy the village to save it. Show no pity. And now we can do it all by drone so “nobody” is responsible.

    All these things have nothing to do with religious fundamentalism – They are the hallmark of free market ideology and social Darwinism at its worst – which goes to proves my point – not all evil in the world has to be attributed to fundamentalism! some other ideologies have their fare share in the contribution to human suffering.

  55. Ayya Citta wrote — “The video that Californian referred to as a farce is this:

    and it is has nothing to do with attacks on Gaza or any other atrocity. Why don’t you have a look at it …….”

    Of course it is connected to attacks on Gaza and has everything to so with atrocities — are you blind and deaf? The Zionists in the video made it clear they desire a war on Islam and they also made it clear they wish to see apocalyptic scenarios in the Middle East with one of their number at least excitedly discussing nuclear war, which he seems to feel his Bible predicts . They were all clearly excited about war and confrontation no less.

    What are you talking about Ayya? Did you watch the same video as us? Are you on the same planet as us? I have to say, I have been around Theravdain Buddhists for twenty years now, and have often felt concerned about their ignorance regarding world events. I worry it’s getting worse.

    Thank God for Sujatos blog then, that highlights such ignorance and tackles it on all fronts.

    Look, what the use is being able to count our breaths, and reach a Samadhi state, and count our footsteps in walking meditation, when war is being waged and people are being killed on our nations’ behalf? USA funds the Israelis war machine, and European Govts bow and scrape whilst they decimate innocent Muslim and Christian Arabs.

    Please wake up out of your comfort zone Samadhi.

    I am beginning for the first time, to understand why some Mahayanists consider Thervadins to be selfishly detached from others.

    Also, you callously imply the massacre on Gaza, health care concerns,starving innocent populations, the use of sophisticated weaponry in conflicts has ‘nothing to do with religious fundamentalism” resignedly saying instead that they bear the “hallmark of free market ideology and social Darwinism ” — what self centred planet are you on? Haven’t you read anything about Zionist fundamentalism, which is at the root of the Gaza murders.Your words have the hallmark of hard right, or politically apathetic discourse.

    The longing for some Theravadins to be a Pacceka Buddha makes more sense to me now, and I am not sure in the current time, that it’s at all praiseworthy to be honest.

  56. Ayya, I will join the dots for you — it’s very simple.

    Many Christian Zionists in USA desire war on Iran, Iraq,Palestine and Muslims anywhere/everywhere. They support Israel on every level, from the politicians’ offices to the churches to the tourist trips in poor Arab ghettos on occupied land in Israel. Israel is destroying, literally, the Arabs they robbed the land from. America supports that with all its dollars and military might. Both the Christian Zionists, the Israelis and the American hawkish politicians are desperate to ‘take Iran out’ now.

    How can you say these events are not connected to fundamentalism of some kind ?

    Here’s some great links if you are interested —

    And please look at the following map, which shows the extent to which Zionists robbed Arab Christian and Muslim lands, a gesture which you seem so keen to minimise and excuse.

    What does that map tell you ?

    Ayya Citta — What is your motivation here? Why excuse thes opprssive actions? Care to tell us? After all, I am open about my motivation, which is just stop hurting innocent people. I am not pro or anti Muslims,pro or anti Christians or Jews : I am though, pro HUMAN BEING, whatever their faith, and I can’t turn away when I see innocent people murdered by neo fascists. Yes, I know the word ‘fascist’ is lightly bandied about as a term of insult on the net these days, but I say it with intent. Christian Zionists, Israeli Zionists , Americcan and European govts are behaving like fascists. And I take my definition of ‘fascist’ from the highly regarded Jewish Israeli scholars Zeev Sternhell’s understandng of that term.

  57. Greg :
    Look, what the use is being able to count our breaths, and reach a Samadhi state, and count our footsteps in walking meditation, when war is being waged and people are being killed on our nations’ behalf?

    SN 7.11 mentions a farmer who was giving out a food wage to his workers when the Buddha came along on his alms round. When I read this dialogue I get the impression that the Buddha is partially responding to an overarching critique of monasticism in general to which you allude, namely, “what good are you?” This is probably worth its own discussion, but to my own view I paraphrase Gandhi, “We must become the change we want to see in the world.”

    • Yups.

      I made the move from human rights activist to Buddhist practitioner precisely because, after a long time in activist circles, I concluded that the most practical way to stop war and people being killed on the behalf of nations was to go to the causes of these atrocities, namely, greed, hatred and delusion.

      Any remedy which does not decrease the quantity of greed,hatred and delusion in the world is shuffling symptoms, putting out one fire only to start another.

      It goes without saying that any remedy which consistently increases the greed, hatred and delusion in the world is poison in disguise.

      Counting breaths is of no use in and of itself. What is useful about the technique is that, when done skillfully, it leads to the decrease of greed, hatred and delusion in the mind of the meditator doing it. This decrease can be either temporary or permanent, depending on how it is combined with the other factors of the eightfold path.

      Practically speaking, we are most empowered to work with the greed, hatred and delusion in our own minds. Also, so long as we ourselves are full of these things, it is very difficult to help others decrease them (though not impossible).

      So the emphasis on self-cultivation is pragmatic, not ideological.


  58. Thank you Ayya Citta and others for explaining my ideas better than I did.

    For the record, I never said that Christians and Jews were treated worse in Muslim lands than Jews were in Europe. We all know how terribly the European Jews were treated. Saying “A is bad” doesn’t mean “A is worse than B”. And I don’t think I implied that. I didn’t understand that Bhante was thinking about fundamentalism as encountered by Buddhists (in Australia and Singapore?), or else I would not have mentioned anything about Islamic fundamentalism anyway. Note that there are Buddhists being killed by Islamic fundamentalists in southern Thailand (and in mentioning this, I am not belittling the suffering in Gaza, Visakha and Greg).

    Visakha and Greg, you are both showing the dangers of believing that “mankind if your business”, as Florentyna put it. In taking responsibility for the suffering of others, you are also making yourself the judge. You objectify one party as wronged and the other as guilty, and then ascribe every negative trait to the guilty party whether they deserve it or not. And before you put words in my mouth let me be clear that I’m not saying that Israel bears no guilt.

    You are taking on a burden that you don’t have to take on. We all do this all the time, and it’s usually a bad idea. Yes, it is a terrible situation in the Middle East. No, you are not responsible for it, and it’s not your responsibility to adjudicate it, defend the (completely) righteous, and cast down the (totally demonic) oppressors.

    I would advise you to realize that you do not owe the people involved (after all, owing means debt, which is a burden, which means suffering), and develop compassion for all of them for your own sake.

  59. I appreciate the discussion on the situation in Israel – Palestine.

    I have taught meditation retreats on and off in Israel with my partner Kittisaro for quite a few years now. It has so many resonances with South Africa where we have also lived and worked these past 15 years.

    Peoples who are dealing with, conditioned and shaped by, deep trauma, internalized and externalized splits. Without going into the maze of my many personal reactions, considerations on such complex dynamics (which are manifold and as strong as some of what has been expressed in earlier postings!)

    Just to say that the practice of Dharma and meditation offers a vital ‘middle ground’ from which a more wise and compassionate response can emerge. I haven’t time to elaborate further right now (gotta get off this blog and into the day!) – But transformation of consciousness through meditative practice is also a powerful political dynamic.

    OK – just time to share this story..its one that Jack Kornfield tells.

    He had a very close Palestinian friend who hated Israeli’s and who was an activist – for his troubles landed up doing time in Israeli prisons.

    One time in prison he was nearly beaten to death by a bored Israeli guard. As he was ‘dying’ he experienced his consciousness as the body being kicked on the floor, as the boot and person doing the kicking, as the paint on the walls, as the sound of the call to prayer from the local mosque as the earth, as it all. He was also the compassion that held it all.

    He didn’t die, but remembered the ‘experience’which radically changed his life to one of peace worker – to one of marrying an Israeli woman and bringing up Israeli-Palistinean children.

    Hopefully we won’t all need to be kicked to death to get the point! – But the earth itself is sort of being ‘kicked to death’ the increased intensity we are all immersed in is also a ripe moment for a radical shift of consciousness.

    Buddhism can offer much to bring that about, its an excellent vehicle for transformation – if it doesn’t get caught in its own blind spots – its attachment to the forms that preserve the Dharma.

    The Dharma isn’t Buddhism – as Ajahn Chah said, Buddhism (actually he said Vinaya) is the peel of the fruit – doesn’t nourish – in an of itself – unless we taste the fruit.

    OK – off the blog and into the day.. cheers everyone.

    • Thank you Thanissara for an inspiring story and deep reflections.
      The Buddha’s idea of not responding to hate with hate – is to me one of the most profound ones in his teachings. One that is REALLY difficult to follow but absolutely essential if we want to actually solve the problem rather then perpetuate it.
      I hate what the Israelis are doing in the occupied territories with every bone in my body – but I try just as hard not to turn it into hating Israelis. I have to admit it becomes easier living in Australia than it was living in Israel.
      I agree deeply with Lisa who said:
      “…For my part, I make the decision: can my gifts and skill influence this situation? If yes, get energized, educated, organized and act. If not, if it is too distressing, put it aside, and focus on those areas where I can act skillfully and do the best I can.”
      If you think you can make a change – do it. If you can’t – practice compassion to ALL.

    • Dear Ayya Citta

      It is so refreshing to see your honesty here in acknowledging that you felt aversion to what the Israelis were doing. All too often, I see patigha masquerading as karuna, justified and dressed up as a Brahmavihara. Far better is your honesty in acknowledging where patigha has found a foothold and then trying a genuine manifestation of karuna that avoids this unskillful root of kamma.

      Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu!

  60. Dear Californian,

    By taking civic responsibility for the suffering of others caused by my government, with my tax dollars, I think I’m being both a good citizen and a good Buddhist.

    On what grounds do you accuse me of “objectifying one party as wronged and the other as guilty” when I am merely using my intelligence, informing myself, and referring to universal standards of human rights?

    How dare you charge me with “ascribing every negative trait to the guilty party whether they deserve it or not.” You don’t know me; you’ve never heard me talk; but you are accusing me of demonizing others, which I’ve not done.

    As my grandfather used to say, unsolicited advice stinks, so I send right back to you your repeated, uncalled for, suggestions that I stop being concerned about people I have not personally knocked down, shot, tortured, or bombed.

  61. For your information. (although there is no particular reason to suppose that fundamentalism is at the bottom of this land grab in Bangladesh, the parties involved are of different religions and ethnicities.)

    Human Rights Abuse against Indigenous People in Bangladesh
    An Urgent Appeal for Protection

    On February 19-20, 2010, members of the Bangladesh army and illegal Bengali settlers attacked fourteen villages of the indigenous Jumma people in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs) in Bangladesh. In these pre-planned attacks, at least 200 houses, seven shops, a UNDP-sponsored village center, Buddhist temples, and a church were burned to the ground.
    After the settlers began torching the buildings, the army opened fire, killing at least six Jumma villagers and injuring at least twenty-five. Many others are missing.
    To add insult to injury, six injured Jumma villagers who were admitted to Baghaichari hospital were arrested. The army claims that the attacks were actually a clash between ethnic groups, that the soldiers fired only blanks, and that the fires were set by the villagers themselves. All of these claims are patently false. Six villagers were killed, the villagers would not destroy their own homes, and no settlers were injured.
    Because of the attacks, about 1,500 Jummas, whose houses were burned, are still taking refuge in the jungle. Since their food supplies were also destroyed, they are close to starvation, but no relief has been provided.
    In order to prevent the truth from coming out, curfew has been imposed in the district. The Bangladesh army personnel have prevented journalists and human rights activists from visiting the affected areas. On February 20, two journalists from Bengali newspapers tried to enter the villages, but they were attacked by the illegal settlers, and one reporter’s motorcycle was burned.
    These latest attacks are part of a drive by Bengalis, backed by the Bangladesh Army, to take over land owned by the indigenous Jumma people, which has been going on since 2005. The villagers have repeatedly lodged complaints, but nothing has been done to stop the illegal settlers.

    For a full report of the attacks, and the background of the struggle, please see the Asian Human Rights Commission report “Bangladesh IPs Massacred for Land Grab” at

    Please send brief, politely-worded letters urging justice and protection for the persecuted Jumma villagers of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. Please ask that their lives and homes be protected and that their rights ensured. Send your letters to:

    Mrs. Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister
    Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
    Office of the Prime Minister
    Tejgaon, Dhaka, Bangladesh

    Ms. Renata Lok Dessallien
    UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh
    email: Ms. Navanethem Pillay
    , United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
    Human Rights Council and Treaties Division
    Complaint Procedure
    1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

    High Commission of Bangladesh in
    Sri Lanka
    286 Bauddhaloka Mawatha
    Colombo 7, Sri Lanka
    email: Embassy of Bangladesh in the
    United States
    3510 International Drive, NW D.C. 20008
    Washington DC, United States

    High Commission of Bangladesh in the
    United Kingdom
    28 Queen’s Gate,
    London SW7 5JA, United Kingdom

    For more information, please contact Buddhist Relief Mission

  62. I’ve been pondering your thoughts with intrigue. In my experience with ‘fundamentalists’ (of protestant Christian affiliations) is that they tend to not want to engage with me, about anything. If I get a ‘good day’ in response to my ‘hello’ then I’ve probably reached the limits of our interaction!

    To set the scene, after leaving Amaravati, I moved to a little known pocket of the Netherlands where groups of, to use your categorisation, reform protestant fundamentalists thrive. They tend to have large families (the family where I get my eggs has 14 children), they don’t have TVs, swimming’s not allowed, snowmen building on Sunday’s is strictly forbidden, women may not wear trousers and the women’s role is considered to be in the home with the family. They have political representation (the SGP), both local and national, and (guess what!) women are not permitted to represent any position in the party. On a recent interview with the Dutch media, a woman attending a political meeting of the SGP was ‘protected’ from talking to the journalist. This party are dominant in our local council and their influence overreaches even the cultural activities for rest of the community. Recently a theatre production about Jesus was protested against and thus did not take place (even when members of the same church elsewhere had no problem with it).

    Meanwhile, prostitution is legal in the Netherlands. A position vehemently opposed to by the SGP who find it (ironically) demeaning for women.

    It seems to me that often the approach here in the Netherlands is to not engage in dialogue over contentious issues with this group partly because it does seem futile, but mostly because this group don’t put themselves in positions of debate. After all they have the hotline with God.

    But I do worry about them being ignored. It seems to strengthen their cause. Having also been involved with NVC like a fellow contributor, I try to consider what’s going on for them, to keep my heart open.

    There are advantages to having the SGP in town. Our council has 3 ‘pray-days’ per year. All the shops are shut and the day is devoted to contemplation. Plus they tend to leave the Buddhas and Ganeshes alone in the local fairtrade shop I’m guessing through their ignorance of what they represent.

    • Hi Andrea,

      Wow, sounds like a fascinating, if somewhat disturbing, little micro-culture…

      While i wouldn’t have a problem regarding this group as fundamentalist, it wasn’t exactly what i was thinking of. It sounds like these are maybe relics of the original puritan-style reformations? The kind of movement i was thinking of is much more recent, and more characterized by conversion – of the whole world.

  63. American Fundamentalism seems much more virulent than anybody elses. This from Alternet (for those who may not know, Sarah Palin was Republican Vice-Presidental candidate in 2008)

    NEWS & POLITICS AlterNet / By Bill Berkowitz

    Heads Up: Prayer Warriors and Sarah Palin Are Organizing Spiritual Warfare to Take Over America
    The New Apostolic Reformation, the largest religious movement you’ve never heard of, aims to take control of communities through ‘prayer warriors.’
    March 1, 2010 |
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    Advertisement Imagine a religious movement that makes geographic maps of where demons reside and claims among its adherents the Republican Party’s most recent vice presidential nominee and whose leaders have presided over prayer sessions (one aimed at putting the kibosh on health-care reform) with a host of leading GOP figures.

    It’s a movement whose followers played a significant role in the battle over Proposition 8, California’s anti-same-sex marriage initiative, and Uganda’s infamous proposed Anti-Homosexuality Law, more commonly associated with the Family, a religious network of elites drawn from the ranks of business and government throughout the world. But the movement we’re imagining encompasses the humble and the elite alike, supporting a network of “prayer warriors” in all 50 states, within the ranks of the U.S. military, and at the far reaches of the globe — all guided by an entire genre of books, texts, videos and other media.

    Imagine that, and you’ve just dreamed up the New Apostolic Reformation, the largest religious movement you’ve never heard of.

    NAR’s videos, according to researcher Rachel Tabachnick, “demonstrate the taking control of communities and nations through large networks of ‘prayer warriors’ whose spiritual warfare is used to expel and destroy the demons that cause societal ills. Once the territorial demons, witches, and generational curses are removed, the ‘born-again’ Christians in the videos take control of society.”

    The movement’s notion of “spiritual warfare” has spread from the California suburbs to an East-Coast inner city, and has impacted policy decisions in the developing world. Movement operatives are well-connected enough to have testified before Congress and to have received millions of dollars in government abstinence-only sex-education grants, and bizarre enough to maintain that in its prototype communities, the movement has healed AIDS, purified polluted streams and even grown huge vegetables. Leaders in the NAR movement refer to themselves as “apostles.”

    In the days leading up to the historic vote on health-care reform in the Senate, Apostle Lou Engle led the Family Research Council’s “Prayercast” against health-care reform, a Webcast featuring Republican Senators Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Sam Brownback (Kans.), and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.). Earlier in the year, Engle, who leads the group TheCall, prayed over Newt Gingrich at a Virginia event called Rediscovering God in America. In 2008, Engle, at an event he staged at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, advocated acts of Christian martyrdom to end abortion and same-sex marriage. This “apostle” claims LGBT people are possessed by demons. And Engle is not the only NAR apostle with political connections.

    Presidential campaign watchers got their first taste of the New Apostolic Reformation when it was revealed that Sarah Palin, while mayor of Wasilla, had been prayed over in a laying-on-of-hands by Rev. Thomas Muthee of Kenya, director of the NAR East Africa Spiritual Warfare Network, in a ceremony designed to protect Palin from witches and demons. Muthee, it turns out, is famous in his native land for driving out of town a woman he deemed a witch, a charge that had her neighbors calling for her stoning.

    Palin, according to Alaskan Apostle Mary Glazier, became part of her prayer network at the age of 24. Wasilla is no stranger to wandering NAR leaders. Last June, Apostle Lance Wallnau stopped through in the course of his world travels, promoting the movement’s Reclaiming the Seven Mountains of Culture campaign at Wasilla Alaska Assembly of God Church — the very church at which Muthee laid hands on Palin. (The “seven mountains” are the realms of business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family and religion.) Other NAR luminaries dropping by Wasilla last year include leading international Apostles Naomi Dowdy and Dutch Sheets.

    Apostle Samuel Rodriguez heads an organization of 15 millions Hispanic evangelicals (the Sacramento, Calif.-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference) and was courted by both Democratic and Republican candidates during the 2008 presidential election.

    In 2006, former Senator Rick Santorum, R-Penn., who appears to be positioning himself for a run at the presidency, took the stage with Apostle Alistair Petrie at a NAR “Transformation Summit” in Ephrata, Pennsylvania.

    The International Transformations Network conferences led by Apostle Ed Silvoso have featured Hawaii’s Republican Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona (who is currently running for governor) and Uganda First Lady Janet Museveni. Silvoso has been hosted abroad by heads of state, including Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni and Gloria Arroyo, president of the Philippines.

    Apostle Julius Oyet was recognized by the Ugandan Parliament for the draconian anti-gay bill recently introduced in that country, and is a star in one of the movement’s Transformation movies. An influential Guatemalan pastor, Apostle Harold Caballeros, made a quixotic run for the presidency of that country in 2007.

    Christian publishing magnate Stephen Strang is an apostle, as well as a director for John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, while Apostle Tom Hess hosts the annual Christian Government Leaders Conference in the Israeli Knesset.

    Outside the realm of politics, Apostle Jim Ammerman, as head of a pentecostal chaplains’ organization, accounts for more than 270 chaplains, including U.S. military and civilian chaplains. “Ammerman is a former military chaplain whose Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches was approved in 1984 by the Department of Defense as an endorsing agency to place chaplains in the United States Military,” writes Rachel Tabachnick.

    Apostle Bernard Wilks, in conjunction with Apostle Ed Silvoso’s International Transformation Network, has assigned a “prayer warrior” to almost every single street in Newark, New Jersey, to pray for “transformation” of the city.

    The movement has emerged from the largest single block of Protestant Christianity on the globe — sometimes called charismatic, neo-charismatic or neo-Pentecostal — one often overlooked since its adherents do not comprise a single denomination, and often belong to churches characterized as “non-denominational.”

    Charismatic Christians are born-again believers who have a secondary conversion experience, one they claim gives them supernatural gifts, such as speaking in tongues, casting out demons, faith healing, and other “signs and wonders” they believe will help to evangelize the world in preparation for the end times. Charismatics are typically Protestant, but there is also a movement of charismatic Catholics.

    At the top of the New Apostolic Reformation authority structure is Presiding Apostle C. Peter Wagner, a longtime Christian educator (who recently enjoyed a brief blip of fame when he was revealed as the graduate school mentor of Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life and pastor of Saddleback Church in California). Wagner partnered with Ted Haggard, then pastor of the New Life Christian Church in Colorado Springs, to build the initial nerve center of the movement in that town. (Haggard went on to become president of the National Association of Evangelicals, but resigned both that post and pastorship of his megachurch in 2006 when he was famously disgraced by revelations of a gay affair and drug use.)

    AlterNet turned to Rachel Tabachnick for insight on the New Apostolic Reformation and its political impact. Tabachnick is a nationally recognized researcher and writer on the religious right and its “end-times” narratives.

    Bill Berkowitz: Most people are unaware of the New Apostolic Reformation. Tell us what we should know.

    Rachel Tabachnick: Imagine for a moment that a large block of the evangelical world decided to re-organize themselves in a hierarchy somewhat resembling the Roman Catholic Church, with leaders in authority over each nation and region. And additionally imagine that every person — from the individual congregants to the top leaders — would have someone to whom they are accountable. It seems unthinkable, but this is exactly what the “apostles” and “prophets” [of the New Apostolic Reformation] are doing.

    C. Peter Wagner streamlined the ideology and named it the New Apostolic Reformation. Wagner serves as the presiding apostle of the International Coalition of Apostles (ICA) which includes several hundred apostles across the U.S. and about 40 nations, international training centers and prayer warrior communication networks in all 50 states and worldwide. Those in the top tier of Wagner’s network each have apostolic authority over other ministries, sometimes hundreds or even thousands. (See Talk2Action’s Resource Directory for the New Apostolic Reformation.)

    This is not just a church movement. [Those called] market apostles work in business, finance, communications, media and also lead the Reclaiming the Seven Mountains of Culture mandate. Bruce Wilson [a co-founder of Talk2Action] and I have both written about this campaign encouraging Christians to take dominion over seven spheres of government and society.

    Enterprises known as “kingdom businesses” play an important role: A Toronto apostle’s ministry includes an oil and gas company; two ICA apostles head Markets Unlocked, a business matchmaking system that connects kingdom business customers and suppliers, and claims exclusive agreements for over a half billion dollars of products and services. Trained intercessors are now paid to pray for businesses, and ICA apostles work closely with the International Christian Chamber of Commerce.

    Apostles are also active providing social services, which Wagner describes as a method for accessing government and society. Apostle Doug Stringer, who is a former fitness instructor, is now listed as a policy expert at the Heritage Foundation, and claims to have distributed $30 million of gifts and donations during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He has expanded operations to Fiji, Poland and Southeast Asia.

    Wagner teachers that there will soon be a “great transfer of wealth” from the ungodly to the godly and has set up structures in preparation. The Wagner Leadership Institute teaches courses in prophecy as well as foreign currency exchange.

    BB: How is the movement structured, and how has it grown so rapidly?

    RT: Church growth is the key concept. Other Christian dominionist movements propose austere biblical law but Wagner explained in his 2008 book that he believes rapid growth of the movement will allow Christians to take dominion inside a democratic framework.

    Wagner, who will be 80 this year, was a professor of church growth for 30 years at Fuller Theological Seminary, and promoted explosive mega-church growth. He has mainstreamed the concept of cell church structures, a strategy which began in Asia and South America and has resulted in congregations of tens of thousands. Cell churches are organized like a pyramid marketing scheme with small groups, usually with no more than 12, tasked with spinning off new cell groups and growing the church. This also resembles a military structure: Each cell group has a leader and lower level leaders answer to and are accountable to their superiors, on up the chain.

    Such “spiritual accountability” schemes used to be called shepherding, but because of bad press and reports of coercive and abusive practices, it has been rebranded as “discipling.” Lay people in cell groups perform many of the functions that would normally be carried out by pastors, and pastors become like corporate CEOs. This is how many of today’s megachurches function. In his role as a church growth specialist, Wagner was able to repackage radical shepherding and cell structures as mainstream concepts for church growth.

    These authoritarian strategies were further sanitized by Wagner’s most famous student, Saddleback Church ‘s Rick Warren. Recently, while commenting about Uganda’s proposed draconian anti-gay legislation, Warren denied that Wagner was his dissertation adviser. However, I have a copy of the dissertation which lists Wagner as “mentor,” and also explains Warren’s desire to rid churches of voting, boards, and democratic structure. In Wagner’s 1999 book Churchquake: How the New Apostolic Reformation is Shaking up the Church as We Know It, Wagner describes this radical re-structuring: “The traditional concept is that the congregation owns the church and that they hire the pastor to do their ministry for them. New apostolic churches, like Rick Warren’s, turn this around 180 degrees…”

    The New Apostolics are now trying to apply shepherding to entire communities and even nations. Sara Diamond, a pioneer in the field of dominion theology, warned in 1989 that charismatic shepherding was becoming a “masterpiece of political strategy.” Some of the very same religious right strategists that Diamond wrote about in 1989 are now apostles in the ICA.

    BB: What do the terms ‘spiritual mapping’ and ‘spiritual warfare’ mean and how do they function?
    RT: Spiritual warfare is not a new concept; it can mean something as benign as a person’s internal struggle to resist evil. These days, the New Apostolics have co-opted the term.

    During the 1990s, in a frenzied effort to evangelize the world before 2000, Wagner proposed that instead of winning souls one by one, entire geographic areas and “people groups” could be targeted, therefore speeding up the process.

    These new strategies include “Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare” and “spiritual mapping,” designed to win territory. This is accomplished by doing battle with demons or principalities that they believe cause entire ethnicities, religions, and geographic areas to resist conversion. After expelling the demons, the evangelized population can take “dominion” over local government and culture. Then the community supposedly experiences a foretaste of “God’s Kingdom on earth.” These mini-utopias are advertised as having reduced poverty, corruption, disease, and even healing the environment. This is the ultimate faith-based initiative: remove the demons and society will be healed.

    Spiritual mapping is the reconnaissance mission for spiritual warfare and involves the literal mapping of neighborhoods and cities to determine where the demons are. This includes generational curses, or those things in a city’s history that allowed demons to take hold of the entire populis. Spiritual mapping is the ideological foundation for the now popular “prayer walking” and the formation of many city-wide prayer groups.

    Wagner, George Otis, Jr., Ed Silvoso, Ted Haggard, John Dawson of Youth With a Mission, and others created an entire genre of books, texts, videos and other media teaching spiritual mapping and strategic level spiritual warfare. Their access to the interdenominational world missions’ movement in the 1990s helped them spread these techniques rapidly around the globe.

    The Transformations movies produced by Otis, Jr. are promotional “documentaries” showing prototypes of this process in which supernatural transformation of a community takes place including the healing of AIDS, instantaneous purifying of polluted streams, and even growth of huge vegetables. These movies have been shown to millions globally, and Transformations organizations worldwide are attempting to replicate these prototypes in their local communities.

    Uganda is featured in several of the series of Transformations movies, which include top political, military and religious leaders. Bruce Wilson’s recent video, Transforming Uganda, documents Silvoso’s claim that his International Transformation Network is “discipling” every region of Uganda and 14,000 churches across th at country.

    It is important to note, however, that this supernatural warfare isn’t limited to faraway places and underdeveloped countries. The Transformations ideology originated from Western evangelicals — witch-hunting and all — and the prototypes have included cities like Hemet, California. Ugandan Julius Oyet, who starred in one of the Transformations movies is a key figure in the recent proposed draconian anti-gay legislation in that country.

    BB: How are these strategies put into practice? Where have they been tried successfully? Where have they failed?

    RT: Although many of the claims made in the Transformations movie can be easily disproved, the movement’s advancement appears to be partially due to the promotion of the Transformations prototypes.

    Supernatural healings of AIDS, spontaneous destruction of property of other belief systems, and even claims that the prayers of the movement have killed other humans are featured in films shown worldwide, including to mainline Protestant churches and renewal groups which have subsequently broken from their parent denominations.

    For instance, the Transformations movies claim there have been thousands of cases of miraculous curing of AIDS in Uganda. Conversely, medical leaders are warning that claims of miraculous healing are interfering with the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Since altering their AIDS programs to abstinence-only programming promoted by U.S. evangelicals, Uganda has had an increase, not decrease of new AIDS cases.

    To give you an idea of how deeply entrenched the New Apostolics are in this policy consider this example of one of the most celebrated abstinence-only programs in the U.S. Recapturing the Vision and Vessels of Honor are names for abstinence-only programs headed by Jacqueline del Rosario, who testified for renewal of Title V abstinence-based funding in Congressional hearings in 2002. Since 2001, her Miami organizations have been the recipient of $3,147,589 of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant money, and significant sums from other public sources, despite the fact that her organization was one of four in a long-term federally funded study which show ed no measurable results.

    Del Rosario was a speaker, along with Wagner and other top apostles, at a conference in January, where she was described as an apostle in the promotional literature. Her relationship with the apostles is not new, however. She incorporated her organizations in the mid 1990s with leading Florida apostle Diane Buker, head of Battle Axe ministries, and Cindy Trimm, described as a “general in the art of strategic warfare.” Buker is the author of God’s Power to Multiply for Wealth and her Battle Axe Brigade ministry Web site features virulent attacks on Catholicism and other faiths. It certainly makes you question what is being taught in faith-based programming [financed] with millions of our tax dollars.

    Another political area in which New Apostolics are deeply entrenched is John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. Hagee is still teaching that the Rapture may happen any moment, but many of his directors and leadership are New Apostolics who teach that they must take “dominion” over the earth, including Israel, before Jesus can return. These include ICA Apostle Stephen Strang who heads the Strang charismatic publishing empire, and regional director Robert Stearns, who publishes another leading New Apostolic journal titled Kairos. Stearns also leads the largest single international Christian Zionist event, which involves 200,000 churches worldwide — and his ministry has been endorsed by the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus and by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    BB: Are there politicians involved with NAR?

    RT: The Transformations movies show access to many political figures from Fiji to South America to Africa. Uganda is a prime example and the movies are corroborated in this respect by active participation of political leaders in Transformation organizations.Transformation Hawaii has the full participation of Lt. Governor James “Duke” Aiona, who has spoken at conferences and even written for the movement. Lou Engle, a prophet in Wagner”s inner circle, has recently been on the news leading an anti-health care reform Prayercast with Republican Senators Jim DeMint and Sam Brownback, and Rep. Michelle Bachmann, among others. In May, Engle led another televised event in which he prayed over Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee.

    The New Apostolic movement more closely resembles a political campaign than a denomination. PrayforNewark is a citywide prayer project in which every precinct has been mapped out and every street assigned to a volunteer. PrayforNewark is part of Ed Silvoso’s International Transformation Network (ITN), the same operation that is “transforming” Uganda, and promoting the belief that homosexuals are possessed by literal demons. Silvoso’s ITN is also active in numerous other locations in the U.S. and worldwide.

    BB: Where does Sarah Palin fit into all this?

    RT: The movement made early inroads in Alaska through an ICA apostle named Mary Glazier, who claims that a 24-year-old Palin joined her spiritual warfare network. These communication networks allow apostles to disseminate new prophecy to their “prayer warriors.” During the presidential election this included prophecies about Palin, including one in which Glazier described a vision that Palin would take the “mantle” of leadership after a period of national mourning, apparently following John McCain’s demise.

    The first Transformation film so impressed pastors in Wasilla, Alaska, that they contacted some of the religious leaders featured in the movie including Thomas Muthee, who was shown driving a witch out of Kiambu, Kenya. Wasilla Assembly of God developed an ongoing relationship with Muthee and a 2005 church video shows him anointing Palin. Unfortunately the press picked up on the witch part of the story, and not the more important fact that Palin has ties to top leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation.

    BB: Why should the American people be concerned about the New Apostolic Reformation?

    RT: I believe this movement’s threat to separation of church and state is greater than some of the more overtly theocratic movements of the religious right. The inclusion of women and all races in leadership roles, and their enthusiastic sponsorship of social services conflicts with a popular notion about religious fundamentalism. Despite their radical strategies, leaders in the movement have been labeled in the press as moderate, including Apostle Samuel Rodriguez — president of the Sacramento, Calif.-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference — who has been described as a “new evangelical.”

    Unsuspecting people are certainly becoming involved in New Apostolic activities without understanding its agenda. For example, the Global Day of Prayer sounds benign but was founded by Graham Power, head of the Africa division of Silvoso’s International Transformation Network. Numerous citywide prayer efforts and pastors’ networks are under the auspices of Wagner’s apostles. Charities, social services, and “reconciliation” events appear to welcome all, but are designed as stealth evangelism to advance the “Kingdom.”

    In June, Lance Wallnau, an ICA apostle and motivational speaker for the Seven Mountain campaign, spoke on stealth evangelism at Wasilla Assembly of God. In Guatemalan jails, according to Wallnau, New Apostolics teach prisoners a secularized version of “Kingdom” worldview for a full year before making any attempt to convert them to “born-again” Christianity. Wallnau encouraged the congregation to follow this example for infiltrating the seven spheres of society.

    Peter Wagner’s ideas have spread widely into mainstream of evangelicalism, to little public notice. Ted Haggard, former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, partnered with Wagner in founding the New Apostolic Reformation and building its early headquarters, the World Prayer Center in Colorado Springs. Despite the fact that Haggard has written books on New Apostolic strategies, his participation in promoting this radical reformation of both church and society is so little known, it could be described as “Haggard’s other secret.”

    Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering right-wing groups and movements. Rachel Tabachnick has provided research on the religious right to political campaigns and regularly contributes to, Political Research Associates’ The Public Eye, and the Jewish Daily Forward’s Zeek.


    Social Scientists Build Case for ‘Survival of the Kindest’
    ScienceDaily (Dec. 9, 2009) — Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are challenging long-held beliefs that human beings are wired to be selfish. In a wide range of studies, social scientists are amassing a growing body of evidence to show we are evolving to become more compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive.

    In contrast to “every man for himself” interpretations of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist and author of “Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life,” and his fellow social scientists are building the case that humans are successful as a species precisely because of our nurturing, altruistic and compassionate traits.

    They call it “survival of the kindest.”

    “Because of our very vulnerable offspring, the fundamental task for human survival and gene replication is to take care of others,” said Keltner, co-director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. “Human beings have survived as a species because we have evolved the capacities to care for those in need and to cooperate. As Darwin long ago surmised, sympathy is our strongest instinct.”

    Empathy in our genes

    Keltner’s team is looking into how the human capacity to care and cooperate is wired into particular regions of the brain and nervous system. One recent study found compelling evidence that many of us are genetically predisposed to be empathetic.

    The study, led by UC Berkeley graduate student Laura Saslow and Sarina Rodrigues of Oregon State University, found that people with a particular variation of the oxytocin gene receptor are more adept at reading the emotional state of others, and get less stressed out under tense circumstances.

    Informally known as the “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin is secreted into the bloodstream and the brain, where it promotes social interaction, nurturing and romantic love, among other functions.

    “The tendency to be more empathetic may be influenced by a single gene,” Rodrigues said.

    The more you give, the more respect you get

    While studies show that bonding and making social connections can make for a healthier, more meaningful life, the larger question some UC Berkeley researchers are asking is, “How do these traits ensure our survival and raise our status among our peers?”

    One answer, according to UC Berkeley social psychologist and sociologist Robb Willer is that the more generous we are, the more respect and influence we wield. In one recent study, Willer and his team gave participants each a modest amount of cash and directed them to play games of varying complexity that would benefit the “public good.” The results, published in the journal American Sociological Review, showed that participants who acted more generously received more gifts, respect and cooperation from their peers and wielded more influence over them.

    “The findings suggest that anyone who acts only in his or her narrow self-interest will be shunned, disrespected, even hated,” Willer said. “But those who behave generously with others are held in high esteem by their peers and thus rise in status.”

    “Given how much is to be gained through generosity, social scientists increasingly wonder less why people are ever generous and more why they are ever selfish,” he added.

    Cultivating the greater good

    Such results validate the findings of such “positive psychology” pioneers as Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose research in the early 1990s shifted away from mental illness and dysfunction, delving instead into the mysteries of human resilience and optimism.

    While much of the positive psychology being studied around the nation is focused on personal fulfillment and happiness, UC Berkeley researchers have narrowed their investigation into how it contributes to the greater societal good.

    One outcome is the campus’s Greater Good Science Center, a West Coast magnet for research on gratitude, compassion, altruism, awe and positive parenting, whose benefactors include the Metanexus Institute, Tom and Ruth Ann Hornaday and the Quality of Life Foundation.

    Christine Carter, executive director of the Greater Good Science Center, is creator of the “Science for Raising Happy Kids” Web site, whose goal, among other things, is to assist in and promote the rearing of “emotionally literate” children. Carter translates rigorous research into practical parenting advice. She says many parents are turning away from materialistic or competitive activities, and rethinking what will bring their families true happiness and well-being.

    “I’ve found that parents who start consciously cultivating gratitude and generosity in their children quickly see how much happier and more resilient their children become,” said Carter, author of “Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents” which will be in bookstores in February 2010. “What is often surprising to parents is how much happier they themselves also become.”

    The sympathetic touch

    As for college-goers, UC Berkeley psychologist Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton has found that cross-racial and cross-ethnic friendships can improve the social and academic experience on campuses. In one set of findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, he found that the cortisol levels of both white and Latino students dropped as they got to know each over a series of one-on-one get-togethers. Cortisol is a hormone triggered by stress and anxiety.

    Meanwhile, in their investigation of the neurobiological roots of positive emotions, Keltner and his team are zeroing in on the aforementioned oxytocin as well as the vagus nerve, a uniquely mammalian system that connects to all the body’s organs and regulates heart rate and breathing.

    Both the vagus nerve and oxytocin play a role in communicating and calming. In one UC Berkeley study, for example, two people separated by a barrier took turns trying to communicate emotions to one another by touching one other through a hole in the barrier. For the most part, participants were able to successfully communicate sympathy, love and gratitude and even assuage major anxiety.

    Researchers were able to see from activity in the threat response region of the brain that many of the female participants grew anxious as they waited to be touched. However, as soon as they felt a sympathetic touch, the vagus nerve was activated and oxytocin was released, calming them immediately.

    “Sympathy is indeed wired into our brains and bodies; and it spreads from one person to another through touch,” Keltner said.

    The same goes for smaller mammals. UC Berkeley psychologist Darlene Francis and Michael Meaney, a professor of biological psychiatry and neurology at McGill University, found that rat pups whose mothers licked, groomed and generally nurtured them showed reduced levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, and had generally more robust immune systems.

    Overall, these and other findings at UC Berkeley challenge the assumption that nice guys finish last, and instead support the hypothesis that humans, if adequately nurtured and supported, tend to err on the side of compassion.

    “This new science of altruism and the physiological underpinnings of compassion is finally catching up with Darwin’s observations nearly 130 years ago, that sympathy is our strongest instinct,” Keltner said.

    • Thank you very much for this post, Visakha! This article actually contains the answer to a huge, important question that I needed to know the answer to, that I’ve been thinking about for the last two days. How about that?

  65. I chanced upon a rather unusual passage in the Maggasamyutta of the Samyutta Nikaya where the Buddha spoke disapprovingly of what appears to be “fundamentalism”. It’s the “bodily knot of ‘This (alone) is true'” – idamsacca- bhiniveso kayagantho. The Buddha appears from Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation to be cautioning against dogmatism. I think a similar caution can be found in one of the Digha suttas.

    We have been debating “fundamentalism” so far as a social phenomenon. However, I wonder what we should make about the Buddha’s view regarding dogmatism on a personal level. While idamsacca- bhiniveso kayagantho does not seem that different from clinging to views (ditthi upadana), I wonder how we reconcile the criticism of this negative trait with the suttas extolling of faith, especially the confirmed faith of stream winners?

    • I believe the Digha Nikaya Sutta you’re thinking of is the Pasadika Sutta (DN 29), for those of us following along at home. =)

    • I’m loathe to check out Mr Walshe’s translation, after enjoying Bhikkhu’s Bodhi’s works. But hey, if it is in the Pasadika Sutta, I wonder if the same passage against dogmatism and extolling Jhana-junkies is also to be found in the Prasadika Sutra of the Sarva Dirgha?

    • I suppose I’ll have to agree with you on that, if I were looking at the Walshe’s Digha for technical points on doctrine. But I have this strange attraction for the Victorian affectations of Rhys, which I think works better for the Digha suttas’ evangelical role.

      Oops, did I just say evangelical?

    • Hi Sylester,

      I think you’re absolutely right, this statement by the Buddha is referring to precisely what I would call fundamentalism in a modern context, or at least one essential attribute of it. The more common phrasing is ‘only this is true, all else is false (or ‘foolish’, the term mogha including both of these).

      Faith in the Suttas is more conditional, a preliminary acceptance of truth rather than an insistence on it. See the Canki Sutta, for example, or the Culahatthipadopama. And acceptance of the truth of the dhamma does not entail a dismiaal of all other ways of seeing, but an inquiry into them. As the suttas say in several cases, when monks had heard statements by those of other religions, they would ‘neither accept nor reject’ them, but inquire as to their meaning.

    • Thanks Bhante.

      Alas, as much as I cite the attitude extolled in the Culahatthipadopama, many of the Buddhist converts I speak with insist that faith in their gurus and teachings is all important. Inquiry seems inimical to their practice. They can’t seem to accept that the Elephant Footprint posits a real distinction between faith founded on provisional confirmation of certain landmarks versus knowledge of the Goal.

      From a modern psychological perspective, what do you think closes their minds to openness and inquiry? When I examine my own “fundamentalist” traits against the traditional Buddhist backdrop of the mula-kammas, I have the feeling that my clinging to views is born out of an aversion to insecurity. Might other mulas be at work here?

  66. Hey! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any issues with hackers?
    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing several weeks of hard
    work due to no backup. Do you have any methods to protect against hackers?


    • Hi Sol,

      No, never had a problem. A bit of spam, that’s it. WordPress is used by lots of high profile companies, so it can’t be that vulnerable.

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