I am finally getting around to doing a proper “About” page.
As those of you who have been following this blog know, originally it was at https://fireunbound.wordpress.com. This title was taken from Thanissaro Bhikku’s book Mind Like Fire Unbound. His book is about the enlightened mind. For those of you who want to see the description of the old site, you can go there and read the original About page.
But that site outgrew the free hosting at WordPress.com, and was subsequently moved to this self hosted site. And since that time, it has grown from a blog into something resembling a full web site. As you can see there is now a meditation guide – which is a work in progress – a few papers that I have written, and an Additional Resources tab that includes a variety of quite extraordinary writings and talks on the Dhamma.
So much for the mechanics of the site.
As for the philosophical underpinnings, you may be familiar with some of the many ways in which Buddhism has morphed its way into the West. Stephen Batchelor has championed what is commonly called “agnostic” or “secular” Buddhism. Jon Kabbat Zinn has used meditation to found an approach called “Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction,” or MBSR. People such as Dr. Andrew Olendzki have suggested that Buddhism will find its final expression in the West by merging with Western psychology. There is also the relatively modern, Burmese invention, “vipassana meditation.”
To be sure, many of these things have value and are helpful to many people. I personally have benefited from many of them. But having said that, you won’t find much of those things here. This web site is dedicated to orthodox, religious Buddadharma.
In the almost quarter century that I have been studying and practicing the Buddhadharma, I have gone through so many approaches to Buddhist practice that I have lost count of them. I started in Zen, and out of respect to that beginning I still only use black meditation cushions. I dabbled in Tibetan Buddhism, another form of Zen, and many flavors of of “vipassana meditation.”
Eventually, however, I managed to work my way through the then newly published copy of the Majjhima Nikāya. At the time I did not understand a lot of what I was reading. But I had enough of an intuitive sense to see the brilliance of it, and how it all hung together.
I read once – I think in Rupert Gethin’s superb book “The Foundations of Buddhism” – that when in the 18th and early 19th century Westerners first came across the teachings of the Buddha, they initially thought that it must be the collective effort of a number of teachers. However, after going through a substantial amount of the Pali canon – the oldest existing source of the Buddha’s teachings – it became clear to them that the material was so consistent that it could only be the product of one mind.
The Pali canon is an extraordinary collection of works. And it isn’t like there are not changes and additions that have occurred over the years. There have been, of course. Some of them have become more obvious in recent years as we are becoming capable of comparing the Pali versions to the two Chinese versions we have of the Buddhist canon. In some cases there are also Tibetan versions, and in even rarer cases Sanskrit versions. It is a body of literature of incalculable wealth.
But what stands out to me most is how underneath it all, how consistent it all is. In fact, it is so consistent that the inconsistencies really stand out, even to a non-scholar like me.
What I found in these early teachings was a body of thinking that hangs together in a way that nothing else of which I know does. This includes controversial subjects – controversial in the West, at least – like rebirth and jhāna. The whole of the teachings hangs together so well, that I find it hard to start picking them apart, and only keeping the parts that I find culturally acceptable. Frankly, I think the burden of disproof falls onto the disprovers.
The universe works the way it works. It is coldly indifferent to our opinions about it. One of the things that I respect most about the Buddha is that as intelligent as he was, he resisted the temptation to start “making stuff up.” He kept looking and looking and looking until he came to a final resolution. It almost killed him. But what he found, in the end, was the greatest jewel of them all.
So this web site – and more importantly my practice – is dedicated to his original teachings, and not as a way of adopting some mindless orthodoxy. These are teachings that have been verified over the centuries. If you dig deeply enough you can see that. We in the West tend toward spiritual materialism, which translates into a belief in science that is rooted in the physical universe. However, as we are now discovering, even science is running into its own limitations. Science now tells us that the physical universe constitutes only 20% of the whole of reality. We live in a universe of quarks and probabilities and multi-verses and empty space and vibrational frequencies. It is a universe that sounds more like a home to mystics than Newtonian physisicists.
I know a prominent person who has a PhD in Buddhism. He was trained at – among other places – Harvard University. And when he was confronted with evidence of rebirth, do you know what his answer was? “I just don’t believe it.” That was his rational, well-reasoned, highly educated response. “I just don’t believe it.” Thinking like that makes me want to pound my head on the desk.
I think we can do better than “I just don’t believe that.”
Eric Van Horn
Rio Rancho, New Mexico