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Psychonetics: A nerd's toolset to work with mind and perception (deconcentration-of-attention.com)
197 points by irthomasthomas 7 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 82 comments





The basic structure of this seems to match my experience.

> This experience can be perceived as the "normal" mind turning off and another mind awakening. This "other mind" does not think serially with words. Instead, it thinks dimensionally, with mental sensations of pure meanings.

An important note is that it is, imo, not the case that the "conscious mind" shuts off and an "unconscious mind" begins operating; rather, the unconscious mind is always the one doing the work, and the conscious overlay is more akin to a debugger pausing, stepping and querying its operation.

A good exercise for verbal thinkers that I've found, is to try and think a thought out loud, then interrupt yourself before actually mentally verbalizing it, but still keep the thought at the forefront of your mind. This allows you to examine the "pre-verbal form" of the thought.

edit: I've also found that a good way to get rid of intrusive visual thoughts is to do the opposite of their planar deconcentration exercise, basically embedding my observing perspective completely in my vision, leaving no "space" for imagination.

edit: POSSIBLY IMPORTANT INSIGHT that I've just had. Why is there a sense of "I exist/I have control" to begin with? Well, with our imagination, we can move our center of perception somewhere or sometime else. When we do that, the center of our perception diverges from our actual current body. In this state, consciousness cannot command actions at the point of perception, so there has to be a sense of "I do not exist here/I cannot perform actions here", in order to differentiate the state of imagining a fictional center of attention from living in the moment. That sense is precisely the quale of existence.


You have touched on some very old knowledge found in Hindu and Buddhist texts.

You do not exist in the same frame of reference as the objects you perceive. You are fixed while the objects perceived are subject to spacetime.

The sense of existence is all that you are. Free will and control over external environment are only apparent. We claim to be the owner of actions and deeds. Claims do not make it so. The senses and intellect are easily fooled, i.e. Dreaming or VR.

I suggest the Upanishads for anyone looking for more. Eknath Easwaran’s version is an excellent read.


I don't agree that that view is correct. Perceived self and perceived reality are abstractions, but that doesn't mean they aren't real. Also I'm a compatibilist, meaning that I think that free will arises from and within determinism. At any rate, how can you tell anyone "what they are"? That's a subjective categorization; it can be useful or useless, but I don't know how it can be mistaken even in principle.

My consciousness isn't the (only) thing that thinks or makes decisions, but I am more than my consciousness. My consciousness is just a part of the system that I view as my self.


>> that doesn't mean they aren't real.

This feels a little semantic. In buddhism this is partly due to sunyata being translated as "emptiness," which implies "not real" or "doesn't exist." I think most people are on the same page on this instinctively but struggle to find the words because it's not something that can easily be put in words, but in the words of Leonard Cohen "everybody knows"

What is free will? Is there a non-free will?


I mean, I don't think there is non-free will either, but this debate is kind of confused because the widespread concept of philosophical free will, as "choosing one of a set of possible alternative futures to become real", is either self-contradictory or forces some very strange models of selfhood, to the extent of requiring some form of dualism or magical powers of consciousness. In contrast, I just think that people can evaluate imaginary futures and select which seems most pleasing, then act to bring it about, and that this is what free will is in the decisionmaking sense. But I don't think that's the same meaning of will as in this article, which seems to refer more to the ability to act from intention at all.

I think people instinctively feel that more extensive concepts of selfhood "aren't real" more because they don't have the conceptual tools to recognize and describe their presence in their minds. Most people behave as if self and control are real, at least.

For context, I believe that the universe fundamentally consists in a kind of mathematical structure; I don't think there is a reason to postulate a difference between "matter" and "the laws of physics" as a plain mathematical abstraction. As an extension of that, it seems to me that "models" of reality, such as self and the subjective perception of the universe, are embedded, compressed mathematical structures that can be viewed as a simplified abstraction plus an error term. We hold these models precisely because they predict and enable control of the larger system; this is occasionally useful. :) As such, I think they are fundamentally constructed, but not arbitrary - I think that's my major disagreement with the buddhist view.


I just can't square the mechanistic view of the world with the idea that we have any agency. The compatibilists just seemed to define things in a way that it logically checks out. Certainly I FEEL like I have agency, and if I didn't some self-destruct circuit would fire in my head. That's certainly an incentive to prove it.

When I was a child I thought "This is the way the world is, always has been and always will be", then as an adult I think "This system is what governs change, always have and always will,".

If reality is goverened by a mathematical structure, then there are a set of rules where it is no longer a simplified abstraction and there is no error term. Either A) there is a mathematical structure and we will iterate until we find it (or it is fundamentally unknowable, thanks Godel!) or B) our brains are evolved pattern recognizers, and we deem what is repeatable as "useful" and ignore the parts that don't repeat, building a world view based on logic that certainly exists locally but isn't the fundamental fabric of reality. Something like "free will" could only fit into scenario B.

One attempted solution I've heard is the idea that we are all co-creating reality, and what really happens is the mathematically constrained union of all consciousness wills. But if the world was truly a mathematical system, then results can't teeter between alternatives like a ball on the top of a triangle roof. Any idea of free will implies there is SOMETHING that is indeterministic, and as we understand the world at a smaller and smaller level, our definitions of free will just push that indeterminism smaller and smaller. But it remains.

I don't think Buddhism denies the local existence of constraints, just as it doesn't deny the local existence of an orange or banana. But are those constraints truly fundamental or just as impermanent as decaying fruit (but on the scale of aeons instead of days)? "Emptiness" in the Buddhist sense doesn't mean things don't exist, or that things are arbitrary, or there is or isn't free will. To say things are arbitrary implies the existence of meaning. I like to translate the Buddhist "Mu" as "N/A". Disclaimer: there are so many types of Buddhism and my a la carte version of it suffers from the no true scotsman fallacy.

Sorry for saying the same thing in multiple ways. Personally I don't think any of this matters when it comes to doing the right thing day by day, but it's an interesting game to play. Someone reading this is thinking I'm one of the folks ruining Hacker News.


> Someone reading this is thinking I'm one of the folks ruining Hacker News.

And someone other thinks you are adding juice to it. To me sufficiently rational, open-minded and easy-worded (the combination hard to find elsewhere) discussions of how does the human mind/body/world/whatever work and how to possibly hack that seem way more interesting than how does yet another web service or JavaScript library does.


Occasionally the mind would even spit out a very wrong word which just has some phonetic similarity. E.g. I recently said "let's go to Wikipedia" instead of "... to Ikea". That was funny.

> If reality is goverened by a mathematical structure, then there are a set of rules where it is no longer a simplified abstraction and there is no error term. Either A) there is a mathematical structure and we will iterate until we find it (or it is fundamentally unknowable, thanks Godel!) or B) our brains are evolved pattern recognizers, and we deem what is repeatable as "useful" and ignore the parts that don't repeat, building a world view based on logic that certainly exists locally but isn't the fundamental fabric of reality. Something like "free will" could only fit into scenario B.

I think that agentic, practical free will is entirely compatible with "A", and in fact relies on determinism for its operation. I think the common mistake that people make is that they think that the fact that only one outcome exists in the physical layer means that only one reality can exist in their decisionmaking. But the future worlds you evaluate as part of the process of making a decision are fundamentally a different kind of thing from the physically real world your decision actually plays out in - not in the sense that they're spiritual, or metaphysical, but in the sense that they're fictional constructs.

There is a philosophical difficulty here in that, when you evaluate possible worlds, it must be the case that, because you will only actually make one choice, the yous in all but one of the choices seem like they are being logically inconsistent.¹ That is, all but one of those futures are not just not real, but internally incoherent, in that the you in them made a choice that, as you will soon discover, they did not actually make. To resolve this, it is again important to firmly keep in mind that these worlds are not real, and the you in them is not real, and you can just say "in this imagined world, I made this decision because it is imaginary, and I (on the real level) am using this world to evaluate the outcomes of a choice." So there is no contradiction after all.

In summary: assuming that in reality only one outcome exists, your ability to simulate fictional outcomes to process the consequences of your decisions is unimpeded. That is what deciding is. That's all it ever was.

¹ A surprisingly hard-to-fix failure mode for decision theories goes like this: "Consider the possibility that I decide to do A. Looking at that future world, we can know that the output of my decision theory was A, thus proving that A is the best choice. Therefore, I should do A." Imo the correct fix is making the agent aware that this is a fictional world being evaluated by means of assuming A. So the conclusion that A is the best choice does not follow.


I agree the unconscious is the one delivering the 'stuff'. If you know anything about neural networks, you may have come across an autoencoder. This is what I think is happening as information gets passed into the conscious mind. We are aware of the shifting patterns of non verbal thought within our mind, when we pay attention, this is viewing the compressed output of the inner mind - just as the second stage of an autoencoder views the compressed output of its first stage.

The unconscious is unconscious because it's machinations are not directly recorded into memory and so we cannot self reflect upon them. But of course in the moment that part of our mind is conscious just as we are, it's just that that consciousness cannot be recalled.

So this article is calling for the shutting down of the fore mind so that we can better listen to and interpret the output of the subconscious. And further to start to think in terms of the same non verbal architecture that the subconscious moves with.

It is also apparent to me that this matches with the MBTI personality classification system. Sensing types rely upon machinations within the fore mind, logic, verbal translations of inner thought - whereas the intuitives listen directly to the unconscious. I'm an intuitive and when solving a problem I will often simply wait for the answer to arrive.


If you can speak several languages, then you can also notice that in the moment before choosing which language to express something in, you already “just know“ what you mean.

At that point even if you don’t turn it into words, you know the thought anyway.


Some forgetfulness sort of helps even more in this: oftentimes I can't actually recall a relevant word/phrase in any of the languages I know although I know there are. I usually manage to find the words after a pause but the gap between the experience of the sense I want to express and its verbalization can feel huge.

As a side project I've been trying to build a conception of consciousness/unconsciousness with unconsciousness as a mental model, in a sense of a programmed simulation continually attempting to mirror the inputs from the senses, and consciousness as a programmer to override or possibly act as another input, but it's power is pretty weak.

It would make sense that it would look like machine learning, as we find machine learning useful because it categories inputs in a similar way to the way we do. In other words, our unconscious model may be a very complex and subtle set of categorizations, we understand the world by dividing and grouping sense inputs.

But I still haven't cracked how the feeling of consciousness arises from this, your comments are pretty interesting and in line with all that.

*edit - I understand that this way of describing it is deeply informed by me being a programmer of many years, I imagine a life long woodworker would describe it in terms of their trade!


Identity and time (the process of remembering the past and projecting the future) are two core ideological viruses that shaped humanity, but that's all they are - ideas we've been thought to model the world around with. Intentional thinking is a completely different game.

I mean, but they're useful though.

Nothing is useful until you define where do you want to go. I am privileged to enjoy the world the way it is with all we've got thanks to these concepts, despite them obviously being the primary sources of stress (I bloody wish people didn't use clocks for anything but science). But billions of people and animals struggle and could possibly live happier lives if we didn't get "here". I think the optimum is in the middle - use time and identity but keep aware these are just concepts and avoid taking them seriously. Never really self-identify with your "identity". You are you, not your profession, public image, body appearance, gender, age, ethnicity or anything. Believing "identity" is something real, let alone important, leads to all sorts of struggle and existential crisis ultimately. Just look at some unhappy old people struggling to make sense of their lives after they retired and their children moved away. I feel like I would already go nuts or something if I seriously perceived time and identity the conventional way, wouldn't even need to get old. This probably is what turns people into alcoholics or worse.

This practice has similarities to Rudolf Steiner's Six Exercises for Basic Esoteric Development. I've been practicing at least a few of these, nearly every day for most of my adult life. I've found them to be a great help.

My 2 favorites are:

The Control of Will Choose a simple action to perform each day at a time you select. It should be something you do not ordinarily do; it can even be a little odd. Then make it a duty to perform this action at that time each day.

Rudolf Steiner gives the example of watering a flower each day at a certain time. As you progress, additional tasks can be added at other times.

This exercise is as hard as it is simple and takes a very strong intention to complete. To start you might think of it as you think of a dentist's appointment - you do not want to be late. It can be helpful to mark your success or failure on the calendar each day. If you completely forget at the time, but remember later, do it then and try to do better the next day.

My other favorite isn't on this list, but is a related practice:

Draw the same plant or tree every day for 5 minutes. This offers incredible insight into the observation of small changes taking place as part of the change in seasons.

https://leadtogether.org/six-basic-exercises-esoteric-develo...

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Steiner%27s_exercises...


  Psychonetics originated from academic research[1] and appears to employ scientific criteria and methodology (such as [27, 28]) in many aspects.
That's a lot of qualifiers.

So it originated (but may not have continued) from academic (but not necessarily peer reviewed) research, and appears (but may not actually) employ scientific criteria and methodology in many (but not all) aspects.

I hope it's just unfortunate writing, but I can't help but take it as a pseudoscience red flag.


The purpose isn’t to explain anything scientifically but rather to find practical solutions to a given problem.

>> However, that team of researchers was seeking solutions to their tasks rather than explanations concerning the observed phenomena. The researchers' approach could be called "technological".

>> A technological approach differs from a scientific approach in the sense that the former does not claim to develop explanations as long as there are reproducible steps that can be followed to reach a predictable result.


Sure, but "technological approach" doesn't sound nearly as cool and specific as "scientific approach" does. Say "scientific approach" and people think rationality, granularity and reproducibility. Say "technological approach" and people think something boring, complex and, paradoxically, impractical.

It is also curious to mention Oleg Bakhtiyarov specifically discusses the technological and a bunch of other approaches in the beginning of his "active consciousness" book referenced in the article and considers "organismic approach" the next step after it. I hope somebody is going to translate the book into English once.


It is very hard for me to take any claim of "advanced psychological technology" seriously, especially when it includes a section about "supernatural phenomena."

Can a person get or train themselves to resolve ambiguous stimuli (like a Necker cube) in multiple ways? Sure. Can one dissociate one's attention from the center of one's gaze? Undoubtedly. But is there a reason to call this "perceptual weightlifting"? Maybe this works for some people; but I find myself turned off by this language, especially because it seems to promise "superpowers."

One of the points made here is that though most people think that the important aspect of attention is what people focus on, it is also possible to change how one focuses, in a low level sense. Which is a) true, b) potentially worth exploring, and c) very likely not going to live up to the self-hype.

I think being aware of what one is sensing and perceiving to be important; the same is true with other types of self-awareness.


Preface: I've been fascinated with cults since I read "a piece of blue sky" about L. Ron Hubbard and scientology. I'm reading "The private life of chairman mao" now. I've only skimmed the article but...

With the right leader this could make a great cult!


You might be interested in the following:

https://listserv.brown.edu/archives/cgi-bin/wa?A2=CONLANG;a5...

And the New Yorker article he references (which is citation 34 in the OP article here):

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/12/24/utopian-for-beg...


“The model was simple. An individual performs some arithmetic calculation, such as subtracting 17 from 10000. Then, 17 again from the result and again. At some point, he is administered nitrous oxide and sees a hallucinatory image. His task is to continue the calculation.”

I think the Neo American Church has a similar ceremony with nitrous if you are interested in nitrous rites: http://okneoac.org/

Don't quote me on that, I never read their texts except tangentially while reading other history books.


My intuition is that changing how the mind works in any significant way will destabilise it, long term or even worse. Techniques that mess with it, either psychologically or using drugs, are not sustainable. Using such techniques to correct a mind that's already out of balance isn't something I've got a problem with, but altering a healthy/typical mind is to be avoided.

It's definitely good to always remember this cautious idea, yet sticking entirely to it seems equivalent to "don't ever go to gym and lift any weights". People around do all sorts of things which are rather far from the stable point to where their bodies rest naturally and get all sorts of semi-sustainable benefits. A human can actually use brains some good ways most people don't know about. Your brain is a machine you should develop some degree of control over rather than leave it to drive itself chaotically based on external and unintentional internal stimuli alone. E.g. it is possible to develop some degree of effortless stress-free emotion control, learning to take your feelings and ideas critically is also very important. E.g. feeling anger doesn't necessarily mean the other person is wicked or have actually done anything bad at all, feeling depressed doesn't imply everything is bad, you can feel debilitating panic without actual danger, appetite is just loosely correlated to actual need to eat, it is possible and good for health to switch (by your will alone) to feeling gratitude from feeling annoyed. Most people are not aware of this but they should be. Also "normal" mind is a sleeping mind, occasionally you sort of "wake up" for a moment and find the time has passed as if it never was so you didn't live it for to full extent.

This is a reasonable intuition, but consider the same statement in the context of physical exercise:

> Using such techniques to correct a [body] that's already out of balance isn't something I've got a problem with, but altering a healthy/typical [body] is to be avoided.

Of course there exists dangerous excess in both cases. You can exercise yourself to death, or ruin your health with horse testosterone. But that overindulgence can do harm doesn't automatically indict a daily hour of cardio, or even HIIT and a bit of protein powder or whatever.

edit: Granted, some of the stuff in this "psychonetics" book seems a bit nonsense. But some of it certainly isn't.

For example: What it systematizes apparently for the sake of systematism as "(VM.PDA) Planar Deconcentration of Attention (PDA)" is just a very highflown and rather silly description of something I learned from a great-uncle as one of a hunter's techniques for easily noticing movement. The way he put it was not to look at anything, but just look, and eventually I got the hang of it.

I don't hunt, or at least not with a rifle, but I do regularly use the technique in wildlife photography, and it's extremely helpful and not at all as complicated or esoteric as Kusakov would seem to prefer. Too, Uncle Bram seemed perfectly sane when I knew him as a child, and I'm likewise not aware of any particular harm the use of this mental technique has inflicted on me.

I wouldn't make the same assertion for everything in here, or even claim that anything in here is useful other than by coincidence, but there is at least one thing in here I can vouch for, albeit again preferably without all the nonsense with which Kusakov hedges it around. So if nothing else he's no worse off than a broken clock, I suppose.


> My intuition is that changing how the mind works in any significant way will destabilise it, long term or even worse. Techniques that mess with it, either psychologically or using drugs, are not sustainable.

Your intuition from what experience exactly? What makes you think your mind is stable naturally? What makes you think that even if you're sure your mind is stable, that it's not left in it's local minima of abilities?


>What makes you think that even if you're sure your mind is stable, that it's not left in it's local minima of abilities?

I don't think anybody needs to justify to anyone else why they don't want to tamper with their mind. This is by definition a subjective topic. If this person's intuition is that tampering with their mind will destabilize it, that's legitimate. Nobody is in a place to question someone's intuitions about their own mind. Other minds are alien experiences -- unknowable. Not everyone can, wants to, or needs to push their consciousness to the theoretical idea maximum of its capacity as defined by another fully isolated subject. It's deeply irresponsible for anyone to suggest, or aggressively advocate, otherwise.


I'm genuinely confused by your argument. This is simply conscious training for the mind. Do you believe your mind developed in a vacuum? You do train your mind with habits, experiences, internal and external input, constantly. How is it worse than that to take it to the conscious, intentional level?

Because we don't know what the full implications of training with untested, pseudoscientific 'tricks' from some website will be? Because for some people alterations in perception might be destabilizing? Because someone does not fully understand it? Because it's possible to train your mind to do the wrong things as a healthy person with no idea what you're doing?

Your assessment of site's content is just that -- an assessment by a random person on the internet about a subject they can't concretely demonstrate expertise in. A subject that, if misapplied, can ruin people's lives. If someone says "no I'm fine", that's enough.

Like I said before, I don't think anybody needs to justify to anyone else why they don't want to tamper with their mind. It's baffling to me why this isn't sufficient.


Not every random website on the internet is wrong and you can always cross-check information with respected books, authors and some personal advice from real people.

I am pretty certain that subjects treated for paranoid schizophrenia would disagree with you (or probably mostly their doctors).

I think you’re missing the main point of my message that if you accept minds are alien to each other then you can’t possibly give any suggestions on whether it’s good or bad to affect one’s mind.

Your “deeply irresponsible” is equally invalid in your point of view as my point. But frankly I deeply disagree with it. If our minds were that different our education system would never work for example, or sports coaches would never be able to train other people. People are variant, but their variation is finite.


In that respect you are correct. I thought I had specified in the comment, but it appears I deleted it by mistake while editing. I was specifically talking about people who are not unwell in some way. I was replying to a comment specifically poking another to justify their lack of desire to try this "technology" out.

My point should be taken as "nobody needs to explain to you why they don't want to try your 'psychotechnology', you're not visibly an expert in this, nor is this author". This is more a case of someone on the street offering you a powered substance, as opposed to case, a pharmacist handing you tablets from Pfizer.


I always enjoyed looking at Necker cubes and making them morph, as well as other optical illusions. I'm looking forward to trying the more "advanced techniques" mentioned here, like perceiving both morphs simultaneously or doing two cubes at a time. My intuition is that many of these exercises could be valuable training for the mind, although I definitely see how some (like the audio time compression thing or the 2d visual plane thing) could cause psychosis or other problems in a vulnerable individual. A few weeks ago I was wondering why optical illusions were part of my elementary school curriculum in the US. I doubt there is any connection at all to this particular Russian school, but I think "awareness and control of perception and attention" could be part of why you'd want a child to see them. Also, working with the "Schulte table" reminded me a lot of looking at passages or charts on standardized tests, or looking over logs or source code while debugging.

I wonder what those people think about music. Especially polyrhythmic instruments (piano, drums, guitar when overlapping low and high tones). It's a massive walk into deconcentration of attention.

Also their mention about "pure mind" reminds me of an event 10 years ago. Got to job further than usual, 10km along a path on the forest, never been that far, it was a new environment. Sparse forest, calm, but disturbingly so. Sparsity allowed to see far away, but the perspective made trees difficult to differentiate from someone standing still. My mind turned into a hawk-like state. It wasn't fear like fight-or-flight, with accelerated heart beat, sweat, anxiety.. no it was more like a slight hunger and extreme calm focus (also I'm a thin, non combat/chaos trained person, being ready to survive was not a natural thing). My brain also operated faster.


This isn't very different from existing forms of meditation, but the scientific/secular focus here changes things.

If done for science and the discovery of truth, this practice could be a great way to bring old-school spirituality into modernity.

If, however, this is practiced for the acquisition of power, I can see how it can lead to psychosis.


I read this years ago on HN and could not put my finger on the name of the phrase or the originating article. Every year or so I would go in and try to find it in my notes, email or via the search on HN. I'm so stoked this popped up in my feed today as it's one fewer brain itches I have to scratch. Man I love HN.

Perhaps a note about grounding techniques form psychology should be added here, as many of the exercises may cause anxiety or even psychosis.

If you happen to feel uneasy try this:

Look around and take a mental inventory of things around you: "This is a lamp. This is a table. This is a room..."


A similar grounding exercise[1] I like is saying out loud: 5 things I can see, 4 things I can touch, 3 things I can hear, 2 things I can smell, and 1 thing I can taste. It takes just a minute to complete and consistently works.

[1] https://copingskillsforkids.com/blog/2016/4/27/coping-skill-...


There was a long-form, dramatic (as is typical) story about a woman who lost control and eventually committed suicide in The New Yorker or similar that I can't find at the moment, but any search on the "dangers of" or "dark side of" meditation will return ample material to consider before going excessively far with these techniques.

Not to belittle the seriousness of the dangers or their practical consequences: It does seem in life that too much of a good thing, isn't "good."


Also, just FWIW: Sam Harris' Waking Up app has many podcast style conversations with and monologues by practitioners of variations on meditation/mindfulness. I'm suggesting this as a starting point if the article's content is perhaps too esoteric.

Hmm. I want to like this. Something is making me uneasy, though. It seems like some of what is here is partial reinvention and tweaking of stuff that goes back at least to the earliest days of Buddhism. It reminds me a lot of the method known to westerners as "Mahasi noting", so I was surprised not to see it mentioned.

Each time I was inclined to be encouraged by something like "distractions are welcomed", I'd be worried again soon after at mentions of controlling things. It's OK to go against thousands of years of tradition if you want, but it seems worrisome if you do it without mentioning the prior art and explaining what's wrong with it.


You get uneasy because this is written in a very ego/control driven way. I get the feel from the text that the individual who wrote it is interested in dominion over himself and perhaps others.

This is diametrically opposite to how Buddhist/Hindu texts sounds and feel. And I think the way those aforementioned religions approach the subject of personal practice is healthier for both the individual and the world


Honestly as a Buddhist, I find perennialism and the western approach to Buddhism to be offensive and degrading to the religion. Many such people even claim that traditional Buddhist lineages are "backwards" and "for stupid people". The pushing of secularists into Buddhist spaces is a huge issue and invalidating traditional Buddhist voices in the west.

The worst part is that the Buddha even specifically spoke out against many of the points secularists rely on, for example he spoke out extensively against the idea that death is the end. People who believed that were called annihilationists. However people approaching Buddhism in a secular way choose to ignore this, because they think their secular worldview is basic, immutable, and "obvious". Not accepting that the whole Buddhist project contradicts that, they try and suppress Asian voices and spaces, and instead support spaces that already agree with their preconceptions. It is just another form of colonialism, and I really don't like it.


On the other hand, Buddhism has a rich tradition of interacting and fusing with local beliefs and creating totally new interpretaions, which then go on to fight with each other about who's right and who's got it backwards. I once saw a lecture by the Dalai Lama and where he spent an hour defending the purity of his lineage!

Take for example the Zen koan: "Why did Bodhidharma come to China?" "The cypress in the courtyard." (referring to the tree growing in the center of their monastery.) Zen is a very Japanese version of Chen Buddhism, which was in turn a very Taoist free wheeling version of Buddhism from India, which used existing Indian mythology. Zen Buddhists is very formal and ritual focused, and their koans mostly being about a Chen Buddhist monk who spent his little money on alcohol in the nearby town rather than food.

The Tibetan monk Chögyam Trungpa famously said Buddhism would come to the West as psychology. Who cares who's right and who's wrong, as long as it helps you see the cypress in the courtyard?


There was never a transmission of Buddhism that rejected all of the core teachings and doctrine. Why would you even want to call yourself a Buddhist if you reject Buddhism? It is just fashion to these people. It’s like being a communist who thinks private ownership of the means of production is good, it makes no sense.

Also, your idea of what Chan is like is very ahistorical and orientalist. It has always been steeped in tradition, why do you think so many massive monasteries were built in the mountains? Not only that but each monastery was even themed around a specific sutra. If you think it is “free wheeling” you should read the reports in the Platform sutra. It’s clearly just as formalised and rigid as other Buddhist traditions.

Chögyam Trungpa was literally a sexual abuser and an alcoholic by the way.


I know that about Trungpa - the drinking I don't mind but it's unforgivable to take advantage of people. That doesn't make his lectures or teachings any less valid. Shambhala was very important to me as a teenager so that influences my outlook.

"Free wheeling" was me trying to be light-hearted. Many of the Zen stories of Chan involve a lot of confrontation which wouldn't be allowed in a Zen temple, less about what Chan is than the way Zen stories viewed them. To be honest I don't know much about Chan Buddhism except via Zen. I lived in China for 7 years and almost everyone I knew who was lay Buddhist was more into the iconography and didn't practice (I never visited any Buddhist temple). This attitude is pretty universal, most lay Christians I've met also don't practice compassion. I'd rather people practiced and didn't care about the iconography, if I had a choice. It's hard to unravel what about the core teachings was talking to the audience and which are tools for transmission. I expect you and I draw the line at different places.

One thing I really agree with you on is stripping away the role of death in modern western buddhism. I've come to see Buddhism as preparation for death. Though honestly it's better to not to be preoccupied with it to be ready for it, and it will be far different than any story.


I imagine Chinese lay Buddhists are often Pure Land rather than Chan no? I used to practise Soto zen with a teacher but now I’m Pure Land, but I don’t know which tradition yet. Pure Land doesn’t need a teacher or temple to be safe and effective though: you just recite Amitabha Buddhas name.

I think modern western Buddhists seem to reject anything that they don’t perceive right at this moment. Really they should at least be agnostic. Regardless the Buddha did teach too extensively about such things for it to make sense to ignore them. People try and say he was talking metaphorically, or that it was his shallower teaching for stupid people (even Thich Nhat Hanh says this! Imo to appeal to the western ego, because he does not say similar things in his Vietnamese teachings). I just think people need to step back for a minute and really think about why they want to identify as a Buddhist and what their relationship to the Buddhas teachings is


Sorry, this comes across as surprisingly dogmatic and sanctimonious for someone who identifies as Buddhist. Religion can be used in any way people fancy. It goes without saying, but there is no right/pure/true way to practice a religion, especially considering their imaginative basis.

Why would it be surprising? Buddhism is a pretty dogmatic religion. Literally the first of the Buddha's eight fold path is Right View, which means "you should believe in rebirth, believe in life after death, believe in karma, etc." He said that the first step is to have the correct dogmatic opinion. He actually said it is the forerunner to the path and by far the most important element.

Once again, the idea that Buddhism would somehow be less dogmatic than other religions is a Western projection onto Buddhism. As far as religions go, Buddhism is pretty dogmatic and prescribes a very specific worldview. The difference is that it actually gives you the tools to verify those things if you wish, at least if you feel up for it.


I think we mean different things when we use the words "Buddhism"and "dogmatic". I'll leave it at that.

Amazingly you are demonstrating the exact racism and colonialist ignorance that I am arguing against in the original post. It is actively erasing traditional Buddhist voices, people who have actually studied Buddhism instead of projecting their idea of what Buddhism is onto it.

Have you studied Buddhism?

Which texts have you read?

Which Buddhist concepts have you learnt about?

Many people who profess to know what Buddhism really is truthfully answer: no, none, none.

The best way is to just show someone a morally disagreeable teaching to progressives, like for example how the Buddha said that poor people are poor because in a previous life they stole, or that abortion will send you to hell, or that by letting women join the sangha the lifespan of the Dhamma is reduced from 1000 years to 500 years. Or just show them just how much rebirth and karma is in basically almost every sutta. That usually shocks them out of their absolute stupidity and ignorance.


"Monks, do not wage wordy warfare, saying: 'You don't understand this Dhamma and discipline, I understand this Dhamma and discipline'; 'How could you understand it? You have fallen into wrong practices: I have the right practice'; 'You have said afterwards what you should have said first, and you have said first what you should have said afterwards'; 'What I say is consistent, what you say isn't'; 'What you have thought out for so long is entirely reversed'; 'Your statement is refuted'; 'You are talking rubbish!'; 'You are in the wrong'; 'Get out of that if you can!'

"Why should you not do this? Such talk, monks, is not related to the goal, it is not fundamental to the holy life, does not conduce to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, tranquillity, higher knowledge, enlightenment or to Nibbana. When you have discussions, monks, you should discuss Suffering, the Arising of Suffering, its Cessation, and the Path that leads to its Cessation. Why is that? Because such talk is related to the goal... it conduces to disenchantment... to Nibbana. This is the task you must accomplish."

-- Viggahika Sutta, SN 56.9


I don't follow the śrāvaka path

Then, would you say your actions are in line with the compassionate awareness of bodhicitta?

No, but I didn't say I was a good practitioner. That's why I practise for a rebirth in Amitabha's Pure Land.

My feelings come from a place of hate and malice, but also compassion for the Asian Buddhists who tell me every single day how they feel their religion is being defaced.


Your feelings are understandable, but I'd say you will be more effective in actually helping people if you manage to develop compassion even towards people who seem hate-worthy. I wish you continued success in your practice.

I have compassion towards them, I don’t have compassion towards the fact they are colonising Buddhism.

People, not facts, require compassion.

Then there’s no problem

No one owns any religion, not even the Pope or the Dalai Lama. There is no "territory" to "colonize", and I haven't seen any evidence of racial superiority being a motivation. People develop their own belief systems over time. Did Gautama Buddha erase traditional Hindu voices when he spread his new religion in India? Was Gautama Buddha motivated by a feeling that his Nepal race was superior to the Hindu Indo-Aryans? Did Gautama Buddha seek to "colonize" the Indian subcontinent somehow?

We have lots of resources over at /r/GoldenSwastika

https://www.reddit.com/r/GoldenSwastika/wiki/misconceptions

I will not stop until we've erased secular voices from Buddhist spaces


It sounds like you've defined "Buddhist spaces" in a way that's excluded secular voices pretty effectively. Why is it necessary to exclude secular voices from all "Buddhist" spaces, instead of just your Buddhist spaces?

Because it is directly oppressing Asian Buddhist voices in the west

I really am trying to understand here — I'm not Buddhist, but I'm interested in your reasoning. It looks to me like a large portion of American Buddhism is not really that interested in the traditional Asian form of Buddhism, but instead in a form that's heavily influenced by secular Jewish ideas. If people simply prefer that approach, but traditional Asian Buddhism is embraced in your spaces, isn't "erasing secular voices from Buddhist spaces" in general more oppressive, not less? After all, people are free to pursue your preferred strain of Buddhism if they prefer, just like you.

Maybe I'm missing some pressures that you're not expressing.


> It looks to me like a large portion of American Buddhism is not really that interested in the traditional Asian form of Buddhism, but instead in a form that's heavily influenced by secular Jewish ideas

No idea, I don't know anything about Judaism.

> If people simply prefer that approach, but traditional Asian Buddhism is embraced in your spaces, isn't "erasing secular voices from Buddhist spaces" in general more oppressive, not less?

No, because the Asian spaces are also being influenced by the enroaching of Western secular ideas. For example, Zen in the US is highly secularised, even though it is a traditional form of Buddhism. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches secular ideas to westerners but in vietnamese he is totally traditional and spiritual.

Spaces where Asian or traditional Buddhists can practise are shrinking because of this. Many traditional sanghas and temples are shutting down, and many secular institutions are popping up. The secular ideas influence the Asian Americans, causing the decline and defacing of traditional Buddhism.

This is why we have so many threads a day on /r/Buddhism calling out secular Buddhists, and it's honestly probably the biggest "battle" in Buddhism online today.

For me personally: my Zen teacher was quite unhappy with me for holding traditional Buddhist ideas, to the point where it felt like he didn't want me to be his student at all.


The problem is dharma transmission.

The Buddha speaks with immense authority, being the first person to achieve enlightenment and provide instruction in such a codified and disciplined way, that is simultaneously accessible to householders and monks alike. Its deviation from Vedic thought was in how it penetrated through much of the sectarianism of Hinduism, in both caste and cult.

But regardless of how clear-minded the Buddha was, or how concise his teachings, due to the first-person nature of enlightenment it will always be necessary to maintain traditions that produce skilled practitioners that also achieve enlightenment, then pass those same skills generation after generation in a highly replicable way. As there are many experiences which can be confused with enlightenment, this need for strict transmission becomes more necessary.

Your mistake is assuming that "Jewish Buddhism" or whatever is Buddhism. It deviates sufficiently enough from Buddhism in thought and lineage that to conflate the two is simply confused.


That's why many people, including myself, believe that it has been so long since the Buddha's nirvana that it is now much harder to attain liberation in this world. That's why I practise to be reborn in Amitabha's Pure Land.

You should know that despite a lot of very substantive comments, you're dead.

As far as this goes, it's difficult to get inside another person's religious reasoning.


I don't know what you mean by "you're dead", but as to your comments, people are indeed "free" to practice ignorance.

Compassion for it sure, but at the intellectual level tolerance for mistruths is a kind of relativism that I don't think the Buddha would abide.

It is not "oppressive" to state this.


Your comments are marked as "dead" and must be vouched for by a member of the community with high enough "karma" (such as myself). It is a Hacker News anti-spam feature that you seem to have become the victim of.

dogmatic:

> inclined to lay down principles as undeniably true.

dogma:

> a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.

Buddhism:

> a widespread Asian religion or philosophy, founded by Siddartha Gautama in north-eastern India in the 5th century BC.

These are the definitions I'm using


Have you considered that maybe the only path to victory for Buddhism is by being flexible enough to rise above the bollucks?

I'm not a Buddhist, but in its atheist forms (which aren't only Western) it seems like it's close enough to reality.

If my choice is between abandoning religion entirely (because I'm a pedant who spends all my time with computers that won't accept anything unless it's technically correct), or having a think about it because you abandoned the literal truth of your literal texts in favour of some useful metaphors, then maybe I'll think about it?

This is my counter-offer to Pascal's wager.


> Have you considered that maybe the only path to victory for Buddhism is by being flexible enough to rise above the bollucks?

If it were true that such flexibility in doctrine were necessary for liberation, the Buddha would have taught it.

I'm not interested in convincing you to take up Buddhism at all. You can if you want, it would be good for you, but I fundamentally don't care. The thing I do care about, is if you're gonna do it, don't go out and start pretending that Buddhism is something that it really isn't, especially if you have not done much research into it.

Personally, I would prefer you don't get involved in Buddhism at all rather than try and draw some narrow metaphors out of Buddhist texts for use in your secular life.


Our ideas are incompatible, as you have quickly identified.

I wish you well, and I hope that your ambitions to defend traditional buddhist culture will help people.

I hope you will take some solace that I hope to reduce others' suffering, even though I have no faith, and believe faith to be wishful thinking.


Faith is a fundamental part of Buddhism.

Even if you decided to become a Buddhist now, it is really unlikely you would be able to achieve significant progress, because we are in the Dharma ending age and only extremely high capacity individuals have the chance to liberation...

If you are interested in Buddhism, your best chance at liberation is to put your faith in Amitabha's vow and hope for a rebirth in his Pure Land, which is basically the ultimate Buddhist training camp.

Namo Amitabha Buddha!


The thing with Buddhism and perhaps any genuine spiritual practice is that the tools you acquire through working on yourself are powerful and useful, which is why secular people are drawn to yoga/meditation as "just" a practice.

The problem here is that by removing the spiritual side, you get the all the tools but none of the restraint required to wield them gracefully.


One problem for those people is that the motivation is wrong unless there is right view. If you don’t realise samsara, and don’t realise that everything is on fire (see fire sermon) and wish to escape, then why are you practising? Unfortunately for a lot of secular people the answer is: because I had a crazy psychedelic trip and I just feel that something deeper is there that I must explore. And this causes all kinds of issues, because they have no idea how to separate any insight they might have had in their trip from straight up visuals or intense emotions. Further they are interested in the truth for the sake of the truth, and the Buddha explicitly said that such paths can lead to madness. It’s just very dangerous to go deep into Buddhist insight practise without having proper motivations or guidance.

You can study the tradition separately. This is one of those tools that can become a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands. If someone doesn't study the universe before getting into this he is most likely to use it the wrong way. It's important to appreciate the universe from outside the individual perspective. But you can't stop people from doing anything. Just like you couldn't stop people from building the atomic bomb. We need to experience and learn.

Tradition, in my opinion, is people being one-sided towards the right side of the brain - focusing only on experience and not logic. To the point where mysticism is the only way to explain anything. Both sides need to be integrated.


It is nice to see attempts at rationally integrating mystical experiences. That mystical experiences occur and have value is clear. The mystical and perennial philosophy (“all is one”) is not too far from rational thinking.



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