Meditation is About Observation

The way to meditate it’s the sit up straight, relax the body, and focus on the breath.

Meditation is an not about clearing the mind, or not thinking.

What you’re wanting to do in meditation is to pay attention to what’s going on in your body, mind, and feelings.

Meditation is about observation.

You’re trying to learn about your own mind. You’re trying to understand how it works and doesn’t work. You’re trying to know yourself, as the ancients advised.

You’re never going to know yourself if you don’t spend time with yourself, alone, and observant.

Selfishness vs Self-Care

Selfishness is caring for yourself because it is yourself. Self-care is caring for self because you have the greatest influence to do so.

Selfishness is loving yourself first, putting yourself before others. Self-care is loving others equally with yourself.

Selfishness will inevitably harm others. Self-care does not harm others if at all possible.

In selfishness the self is above others, in self-care the self is equal to others.

Writer’s Reflections

There is no use writing anything that has been written before unless you can beat it. What a writer in our time has to do is write what hasn’t been written before or beat dead men at what they have done. -Ernest Hemingway

I confess, Ernest Hemingway’s words hit home. I think to myself, is what I’ve written what needed to be written? Was it written better than others?

The answer is probably no.

So I reflect on the future of my writing. What can I write that hasn’t been written before? How can I write better than “dead men at what they have done”?

I hope you were not expecting an answer. I am making this up as I go.

12 Mistakes of Buddhism

Okay, first understand that I believe these 12 things are mistakes of Buddhism. But maybe Buddhism is right and I am wrong

Remember I am a Humanist, not a Buddhist. So from a Humanist perspective these 12 things are mistaken.

The following is probably wrong: belief on Gods, devas, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas ghosts, heavens, hells, merit, karma, rebirth, gurus, and scriptures.

Now clearly a person who rejects such things as doubtful at best and false at worst, is not a Buddhist.

But I think Buddhism has much to teach. So I am not anti-Buddhist either. I try to follow the evidence to the best means to human flourishing.

Decoding Buddha-Nature

You hear a lot in Mahayana Buddhism about Buddha-Nature. What does that mean?

Who can tell. It seems many have no clear concept of it.

I will give you my translation of it into Humanist terms.

Buddha-Nature is a persons potentiality. Everyone has the potential to awaken. That is, everyone can become more mindful in everyday life.

But, you might complain, that’s not what Buddhists mean. Maybe not, but I am teaching Humanism not Buddhism.

Enlightenment

Meditation is not the path to enlightenment, reading and studying is.

Notice the word “light” within the world enlightenment. Light is a metaphor for knowledge.

Enlightenment means that knowledge was passed from one person to another. We do this through education not meditation.

No, the correct word is awakening. Meditation wakes us up from unawareness to mindfulness.

Almost everyone lives their life unaware and disconnected to the ways things really are. Awakening is the process of opening our eyes.

By eyes I mean our consciousness, our awareness. We have been living on autopilot all our lives. We wake up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, and go to sleep.

We are sleep walking. Until we wake up.

Zen is Hard

Okay, I am not going to lie to you. Meditating everyday is hard.

Those who say it is easy I think are probably lying. Maybe not, but I can’t help but wonder.

Even Zen teacher Doyen said, “Even teachers of old who had great capacity said that practice is difficult.”

It is not that it is difficult to sit for 25 minutes. Its difficult to face the inner world. Its not entertaining. It’s not fun.

Why do I do it then? Because mindfulness is the most valuable skill for living a happy life.

Be Careful

Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.

Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.

Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.

Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.

Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.

– Anonymous

The Myth of Individualism

We seldom realize, for example, that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society. We copy emotional reactions from our parents[…]. Our social environment has this power just because we do not exist apart from a society. Society is our extended mind and body. Yet the very society from which the individual is inseparable is using its whole irresistible force to persuade the individual that he is indeed separate! Society as we now know it is, therefore, playing a game with self-contradictory rules. -Alan Watts

For What Its Worth

In case you may be wondering.

I have been studying religion and spirituality for 38 years.

I have been meditating (zazen/vipassana) for 18 years.

I have been a serious student of Buddhism for 10 years.

I have been a Humanist for 7 years.

Skepticism and Spirituality

A richer life comes from a combination of both a hearty skepticism and what has traditionally been called the spiritual path. -Barrett A. Evans

This seems like a contradiction to many people. That is because they misunderstand spirituality.

Spirituality is the cultivation of a deeper and expanded awareness of one’s connection to reality.

Reality for the naturalist is the cosmos. Here I am using the world cosmos as a catch all for this universe and, if it turns out to be the case, the multiverse.

So spirituality does not deal with another realm. It deals with our awareness of our connection to reality. It deals with cultivating our consciousness.

Seven Taoist Masters

If one cannot cut the ties to gain and loss and to social pressures; if one is concerned with whether one’s appearance is appealing, whether one’s food is the best, whether one’s wealth is acknowledged, and whether one’s property is large, then one has not learned to see through the illusions of material things. Graving breeds anxiety. If you crave, then you’ll be anxious to obtain what you desire. If you want to dissolve it, you must cut your ties to gain and loss. – Seven Taoist Masters

Meditate With Your Eyes Closed, Research Says

Most Zen teachers tell you to keep your eyes open or half-open in zazen.

There are exceptions. Sramana Zhiyi (Chih-i), who greatly influenced the development of Zen Buddhism in China, said that “one should close the eyes” (Essentials of Buddhist Meditation, 85).

Katsuki Sekida says, “I always close my eyes when practicing zazen…. If I want to direct my attention inward, I have to make a deliberate effort to exclude the visual sensations received through the eyes. Closed eyes spare me the difficulty and facilitate inward attention” (Zen Training, 75).

While the research seems to back him up. A paper published in 2020 indicates that “meditation may be most effective with the eyes closed rather than a lowered gaze.”

It is interesting to note that in every sculpture, the Buddha’s eyes are closed or half-closed.

However, for those who are prone to falling asleep during meditation, keeping the eyes open can help. Meditating with your eyes open can also lessen the activity of mental images. In this case, the eyes, half-opened, should be pointing downward at a 45 degree angle.

The bottom line is that there is no sure rule. In the Buddhist tradition you can find advocates of both. So begin with eyes closed. If you get sleepy or have many mental images, open your eyes.

Source: Sprawson, I., Wood, J. & Mantzios, M. “And Now Close Your Eyes or Lower Your Gaze”: Exploring Novice Meditators and Their Attentional Processes During Meditation. J Cogn Enhanc 4, 369–378 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41465-020-00175-3

Can I be a Humanist and Practice Zen

Questioner: Can I practice Zen and be a good Catholic?
Roshi: If you practice Zen you can, but if you practice Zen Buddhism you can’t. – Philip Kapleau

There is more to the answer, but the above is most instructive.

If we changed the question to, “Can I practice Zen and be a good Humanist?” I believe the answer would still be the same, “If you practice Zen you can, but if you practice Zen Buddhism you can’t.”

Humanism is a worldview “without supernaturalism.” Gods, devas, heavens, hells, karma, and rebirth are supernatural claims that Buddhism makes. They are claims that any secular Humanist would reject.

So no, a good secular Humanist can’t practice Zen Buddhism. But a good secular Humanist can and should practice Zen. There is evidence from science on the benefits of meditation.

So what do you call a Humanist who meditates? A Zen Humanist.

Two Kinds of Zen

Zen is fairly easy to explain, it is also impossible to explain.

This is because the word Zen can refer to two different things.

There are two kinds of Zen. There is Zen which refers to the practice of meditation and there is Zen that refers to the experiences that arise out of Zen practice.

Zen practice is easy to explain. John Daishin Buksbazen does an good job in his book Zen Meditation in Plain English.

But Zen, when it refers to the experiences of Zen practice, are beyond words. Zen will teach you that words are both helpful and a hindrance. They can point at the moon, but never give you the moon.

Remember my earlier post about what Bodhidharma said?

He reportedly taught:

A special teaching outside the sutras. Not depending on words and letters. Directly pointing to the mind. Seeing into one’s true nature and attaining awakening.

Worldviews are Tools

A worldview is a tool to navigate the journey through life.

All of them are faulty, imperfect, and limited. Some match reality more closely than others. None match it completely, none ever will.

Like any tool, some people use their worldview skillfully, while others use the same worldview to harm and hurt.

The goal should be to use the best tool in the most useful way.

Mastery in the Art of Living

Wisdom is hard to define. I have tried to define it a few times. Each time something is left out or neglected.

I am convinced that wisdom is not a virtue, but a collection of virtues. You could say that wisdom is a symphony of virtues all playing together the music of a life lived well.

I think my best definition so far is: Wisdom is mastery in the art of living. It is vague enough to incorporate multiple virtues, but specific enough to provide the aim of wisdom.

A sage, then, is a person who is skillful in the art of living.

 

More Michael Molinos Quotes

“It is a saying worthy of all truth that a person who despises his own self-nature cannot be hurt or injured by someone else.” – Michael Molinos

“Self love which reigns in you stands as your greatest hindrance in obtaining precious peace.” – Michael Molinos

“True humility never thinks of humility.” – Michael Molinos

“You cannot be hurt by men…. You can only be hurt by self, your own pride, and the violence of your desires. Your self is the greatest devil of all.” – Michael Molinos

“Desire nothing – Then nothing will trouble you.” – Michael Molinos

“It is the mark of a wise man to do much and say little.” – Michael Molinos

“It has become a maxim among those who follow the internal way: practice ought to be laid hold of before theory.” – Michael Molinos

“It is one in a thousand who sees the heart cleansed of all that imprisons it and pollutes it.” – Michael Molinos

“Both the high mountain and the deep valley are counted the same.” – Michael Molinos

Michael Molinos Quotes

“I would say that the greatest temptation is to be without temptation.” – Michael Molinos

“Remember that it is tranquility which you will use to repel wandering thoughts and temptations.” – Michael Molinos

“In proportion to that recollection there is an inner illumination.” – Michael Molinos

“It is only when a longing for something more is sensed in the heart that the pilgrimage into the inner way should be considered.” – Michael Molinos

“There are three kinds of silence: a silence of words, a silence of desires, and a silence of thoughts.” – Michael Molinos

“Here is the way to cease deceiving yourself: recognize the difference between the outer and the inner way.” – Michael Molinos

“Do not be guided by self-love.” – Michael Molinos

“Happy is the man who has no other thought but to die to his self-nature.” – Michael Molinos

Salience Landscape

Over time, the amygdala creates a salience landscape, a map that details the emotional significance of everything in the individual’s environment. – Dr. Steve Abel

Salience is “the quality of being particularly noticeable or important; prominence” (OED). It is interesting to realize that we filter out a lot of reality. Many things go unnoticed because it doesn’t register as “important.”

In a survival situation you notice things that keep you from being killed. But you have limited brain power, so what is not salient to survival gets ignored.

Here is the problem, noticing the things that help you survive are not the same things you need to notice to thrive.

We have to remap our salience landscape if we are to learn to flourish in the modern world. How? By retraining our mind through meditation.

Muster the Honesty

It’s easy to forget that the inability to muster the honesty of the three words “I don’t know” only leads to a radical dishonesty. – Lesley Hazleton

The older I get the more I realize that everyone is pretending. Yes, even me and even you.

We are all making it up as we go. No body has ever been you in your unique situation.

Nobody can give you a path. The path is made by traveling it.

I am slowly becoming more comfortable with uncertainty. We are acquaintances, but not quite friends.

Bodhidharma Said

Bodhidharma, who brought Zen Buddhism to China, is reported to have said:

A special teaching outside the sutras.
Not depending on words and letters.
Directly pointing to the mind.
Seeing into one’s true nature and attaining awakening.

This points to Zen’s salient characteristics.

After I published this I used Google translator for this quote. In Chinese it is:

教外別傳不立文字直指人心見性成佛

Google translator rendered this into English as:

Don’t teach outsiders, don’t set up words, point to people’s minds, see nature and become a Buddha

Zen Humanism

Zen is about being mindful and loving.

Humanism is about being rational and teachable.

This is what I strive to become, this is what I teach, this is what I am.

If you must label me, I am a Zen Humanist.

Wisdom

Many decades of pursuing wisdom, and here is my discovery.

Wisdom is perspective with teachableness, insight with humility, and discernment with lovingkindness.

Wisdom is gained by the skillful use of teachings, the virtuous integration of experience, an an authentic knowledge of oneself.

Many Words

The more we hear, the less we understand.

The truth is sometimes lost in a multitude of words.

Drowning a thirsty man will not satisfy his thirst, but it will eliminate his desire.

How many are dead to truth by being drowned in words?

Seneca Quotes

“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca

“Life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.” – Seneca

“The mind that is anxious about future events is miserable.” -Seneca

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” -Seneca

“You need not look about for the reward of a just deed; a just deed in itself offers a still greater return.” -Seneca

“It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.” -Seneca

“It’s not that we have little time, but more that we waste a good deal of it.” -Seneca

Marcus Aurelius Quotes

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be One.” – Marcus Aurelius

“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” – Marcus Aurelius

“If it is not right, do not do it, if it is not true, do not say it.” – Marcus Aurelius

“The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.” – Marcus Aurelius

“External thinks are not the problem. It’s your assessment of them. Which you can erase right now.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.” – Marcus Aurelius

“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love…” -Marcus Aurelius

“Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” – Marcus Aurelius

More Epictetus Quotes

“Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will—then your life will flow well.” – Epictetus

“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, ‘He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would have not mentioned these alone.’” – Epictetus

“That’s why the philosophers warn us not to be satisfied with mere learning, but to add practice and then training. For as time passes we forget what we learned and end up doing the opposite, and hold opinions the opposite of what we should.” – Epictetus

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” – Epictetus

Epictetus Quotes

“We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.” -Epictetus

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” -Epictetus

“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.” -Epictetus

“You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” -Epicurus

“Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.” -Epictetus

Age of Stupidity

In the 1970s, I simply did not recognize the extent to which the 1960s “youth revolution” had terrified our ruling Elite, or that they would try to prevent future upsurges of radical Utopianism by deliberately “dumbing down” the educational system. What they have produced, the so-called Generation X, must rank as not only the most ignorant but also the most paranoid and depressive kids ever to infest our Republic. I agree with outlaw radio star Travis Hipp that the paranoia and depression result inevitably from the ignorance. These kids not only don’t know anything; they don’t even want to know.* They only realize, vaguely, that somebody has screwed them out of something, but they don’t have enough zest or bile to try to find out who screwed them and what they were screwed out of. Fortunately, this Age of Stupidity cannot last very long. – Robert Anton Wilson

The One

The One is the absolutely simple first principle of all. It is both “self-caused” and the cause of being for everything else in the universe. There are, according to Plotinus, various ways of showing the necessity of positing such a principle. – Lloyd P. Gerson

Most people believe in God. Even among atheists, agnostics, and those who answer “none of the above” on questions about religion, 72 percent believe in a higher power of some kind.

Using the principle of multiple viewpoints, one has to deal with the concept of God. If we combine and compare the views of Humanism, Stoicism, Daoism, and Christianity we arrive at a particular conclusion.

The problem of evil eliminates a personal God from the probable answers. But Christian mystics are having real experiences. The majority of humankind believe in God, why?

I believe Plotinus might have the best answer. For him, The One is not a person, but an ineffable unity. That means that The One cannot be put into words. It is like the Dao in Daoism. This would be like Baruch Spinoza’s “God, or Nature.”

This is Pantheism, yes. But maybe with a twist. Maybe The One becoming the multiplicity is what we call the Big Bang. Maybe the Buddhists are right and the cosmos expands and contracts eternally. in Alfred North Whitehead’s words, “The term ‘many’ presupposes the term ‘one,’ and the term ‘one’ presupposes the term ‘many’.”

I must learn more about Plotinus and his system before I can answer much.

Perspective and Contradition

Insight: all evaluation is made from a definite perspective… The wisest man would be the one richest in contradictions. – Friedrich Nietzche

The parable of the blind men and an elephant proves that different perspectives can, and often do, contradict one another. But the contradiction is always between perspectives, not between claims within a single perspective.

This means that in evaluating a claim you must know the worldview it comes from. For a claim in the worldview of Christianity will naturally contradict a claim from Buddhism. Coherence is always within a worldview.

I have spent the last few years struggling with how to synthesize the various wisdom traditions of Humanism, Buddhism, Daoism, and Stoicism. It has taught me much.

First, each tradition must be interpreted with the context of its own belief system. Then different beliefs within each system have to be evaluated on the evidence for it, its coherence within the system, and its pragmatic implications.

Second, you compare the beliefs about a particular thing from the various traditions. Where do these agree, where do they disagree.

Third, in areas of disagreement, how does the perspective of the tradition influence the interpretation. It is the same reality being described? It is a different side of that reality being described, or is the reality being distorted by the conceptual filter?

Fourth, remember that all worldviews both illuminate and obscure reality. Favor the view that least distorts, does honor to the different standpoints, and that gives the best explanation of things. And hold that view lightly.

What is Baha’i?

The fundamental principle enunciated by Baha’u’llah… is that religious truth is not absolute but relative… that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony… that their teachings are but facets of one truth… that they differ only in the nonessential aspects of their doctrines…. – Shoghi Effendi

Baha’i is the attempt to synthesize Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism. Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. It interesting to look at their attempt at a synthesis.

We will take just one doctrine, “Baha’is believe in one God” (Frances Worthington). Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have no problem with this, accept Christianity will insist on a Trinity.

But, in Buddhism, there is no creator God. And in Zoroastrianism, there are two Gods. So how do they deal with this? They do what every other synthesizer does, distort the teaching they don’t agree with. Christ becomes “the second Buddha, Muhammad the third, the Bab as the fourth and Baha’u’llah the fifth” (Frances Worthington).

I have seen this before in Theosophy. The commitment to the unity of all religions means that you have to distort all the teachings of the various religions into a single truth. And the single truth is what the author has already predetermined.

This is not what Anekanta-vada is about. Accepting multiple perspectives does not mean that each is equally valid, equally clear, or equally helpful. Different religions really do contradict one another. Even in essential doctrines.

Anekanta-vada

All the standpoints are right in their own respective spheres – but if they are taken to be refutations, each of the other, then they are wrong. But a man [sic] who knows the “non-one-sided” nature of reality never says that a particular view is absolutely wrong. – B. K. Matilal

The most important idea I have ever discovered is anekanta-vada. Literally meaning “non-one-sided.” That is, reality can be viewed from different angles, seen from different standpoints, interpreted through different perspectives.

But I don’t think you can appreciate how wise this is without having viewed reality from at least two different worldviews. For me, this has been Buddhism and Christianity.

It is famously illustrated by the parable of the blind men and an elephant:

It is a story of a group of blind men who have never come across an elephant before and who learn and conceptualize what the elephant is like by touching it. Each blind man feels a different part of the elephant’s body, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then describe the elephant based on their limited experience and their descriptions of the elephant are different from each other. In some versions, they come to suspect that the other person is dishonest and they come to blows. The moral of the parable is that humans have a tendency to claim absolute truth based on their limited, subjective experience as they ignore other people’s limited, subjective experiences which may be equally true (Wikipedia).

The Bodhidaoist Spiral

“There is a good thing on top of that mountain. I will make a straight line for it.” But the archetypal way is not like that; it is a serpentine way that wriggles and spirals its way to the top. We often feel defeated by it and brought to a standstill. It makes most people terribly impatient and even desperate when nothing happens and they get nowhere. They feel hindered all the time; they don’t understand that this is just as it should be, that it is actually their only way of getting to the top. – C.G Jung (The Visions Seminars, Book Two, p.295).

I have decided that the spiral is a better symbol of Bodhidaoism than the compass. Carl Jung explains it well enough.

My preference is for a purple spiral, because purple is the color of spirituality, creativity, and wisdom.

I will stop tinkering with Bodhidaoism when I die.

Straight for Equality

But to us, identifying as an ally isn’t a label—it is a term of empowerment. It is a state of being, an explanation of who someone is, and where their values lie. – PFLAG National

I am straight, that is, heterosexual. But I am also an ally to those who are not like me. Let me explain what being an ally means, taking some material from the booklet Guide to Being a Straight Ally.

“Allies want to learn.” I know that thinking about gender can be uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be. It is important to understand those who are not like you. It is called loving one another.

“Allies address their barriers.” You may have a roadblock to being openly and actively supportive of LGBTQ+ people. Facing it might teach you a little about yourself.

“Allies are people who know that support comes in many forms.” You can show support “through the language we use, conversations we choose to have, and signals that we send.”

At work, I wear a badge that identifies me as an ally. I am a Unitarian Universalist partly because they support LGBTQ+ rights.

“Allies are diverse.” There’s no one way to be an ally. Do what you can to support LGBTQ+ rights. Stand up for what’s right. Do the right thing.

Free eBook
Guide to Being a Straight Ally
https://pflag.org/publication/guidetobeingastraightally

Coming Out As Trans

I’ve been slowly transitioning in secret and I waited until I was ready to tell you all. – Abigail Thorn

I am a long time fan of Philosophy Tube on YouTube. It was hosted by a character named Oliver Thorn.

Well, this week the creator came out as trans. Her name is Abigail. Oliver was a character she played, as she was “slowly transitioning in secret.”

By coming out, Abigail is now one of the most recognized faces of trans people in the United Kingdom. All her legal documents now identify her as female.

Until I watched her video, I did not know how backward the United Kingdom still is. They may be progressive in healthcare, the environment, but not on transgender rights.

Of course, my country is not much better. The United States just went through four years of constant attack on LBGTQ+ rights under a fascist administration.

Recommended Videos

Why Gender Identity Matters

In sum, identities come, first, with labels and ideas why and to whom they should be applied. second, your identity shapes your thoughts about how you should behave; and, third, it affects the way other people treat you. Finally, all these dimensions of identity are contestable, always up for dispute: who’s in, what they’re like, how they should behave and be treated. – Kwame Anthony Appiah

Notice that “your identity shapes your thoughts about how you should behave.” Think of the times we are told, “Little girls don’t act that way.” Or “big boys don’t cry.”

Now ask the question nobody is supposed to ask, “Says who?” Who says boys can’t try and girls can’t play with trucks? Well, who decreed it?

The patriarchy sold it to society, and now it is a social construct. By patriarchy, I mean “a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it” (OED).

Yes, patriarchy is a real thing. And yes, patriarchy is bad. “For centuries, writes Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group.” Do I really have to tell you that this is wrong? That is why I am a feminist.

Identity also “affects the way other people treat you.” I was happy that 2021 saw Kamala Harris sworn in as the 49th vice president of the United States. It took so long because, until recently, women were not considered capable of leading. But the role of women is slowly changing.

But the LGBTQ+ people are still struggling to improve “the way other people treat” them. And of these people, the trans community is the least accepted.

This ongoing and unslowing epidemic of violence committed against transgender and gender non-conforming people continues to climb and claim the lives of too many each year in the United States and across the globe (GLAAD).

Nonbinary

Nonbinary: A gender identification outside of the two-gender, binary system that many cultures recognize. – Kathryn Gonzales and Karen Rayne

From a very young age, I was aware that I did not fit in. I struggled with my identity.

My biological sex is male. And my sexual attraction has always been towards females. And my gender expression, the way I want to be perceived in the world, is male. So I am a straight white male, right?

From the moment I saw the yin yang symbol, I identified with it. I have a tattoo of it on my arm. The yin (black) refers to the feminine, and the yang (white) refers to the masculine.

I have occasionally explained that I am a man in touch with his feminine side. I have certain characteristics that are feminine. I have known this for years.

It was only by reading Kathryn Gonzales and Karen Rayne’s book that I realized that I am nonbinary. I am the yin and yang.

I have it easy. I “pass” as a cisgender man. My sex is male, my orientation female, and my expression masculine. My pronouns are he/him. Until this post, only my wife, son, and my friend Jessica knew.

I could have hidden it forever. I am only coming out to support people like Jessica who have it much harder. Until we walk in another person’s shoes, we really have no idea what they go through.

 

 

 

Transgender

Gender is a social construct that assigns people roles, tasks, responsibilities, and expected ways of being in the world. – Kathryn Gonzales and Karen Rayne

Biological sex is not the same thing as gender identity. This is the hardest thing for some people to understand.

Biological sex is not something you choose. You are born with male or female genitalia. Some are born with both.

Gender identity is one’s own internal sense of who they are. They know this to be true regardless of what others say. This is also something they do not choose. They are born that way.

Gender identity is not just a masculine and feminine thing. It is more complicated. I will have to deal with nonbinary next time.

Now, in a small minority of people, their biological sex and their gender identity do not match. These people are known as transgender.

Helpful tip: Do not use transsexual, that is offensive.

Recommended Reading
Trans+: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You.
By Kathryn Gonzales MBA, Karen Rayne PhD.

 

Labels and Why They Matter

The first is obvious: every identity comes with labels, so understanding identities requires first that you have some idea about how to apply them…. the second thing identities share: they matter to people. – Kwame Anthony Appiah

I have a trans woman friend who has helped me realize the complexity of identity.

At first, I thought of identity as a personal or psychological construct. By construct, I mean “an idea or theory containing various conceptual elements, typically one considered to be subjective and not based on empirical evidence” (OED).

But this is too simple. Personal identity is constructed within a context. The context is important for shaping, defining, and confining personal identity.

So identity is an interdependent interaction of social roles and ideas with our own personal and psychological construct.

Labels are part of the defining and confining element.

Six Sources for Wisdom

This week I have introduced you to the vision of the Unitarian Universalists. I would like to end with their six sources.

  1. Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  2. Words and deeds of prophetic people which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  3. Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  4. Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  5. Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
  6. Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature. – Bylaws and Rules

I hope that you have been informed and inspired. If you are looking for a church that is inclusive, you will find no better home than a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

Freedom of Belief

Why am I a Unitarian Universalist? Because the truth is bigger than any man, woman, church, or tradition.

The Unitarian Universalists respect this.

Nothing herein shall be deemed to infringe upon the individual freedom of belief which is inherent in the Universalist and Unitarian heritages or to conflict with any statement of purpose, covenant, or bond of union used by any congregation unless such is used as a creedal test. – Bylaws and Rules

That is why there are Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists, Christians, Neo-Pagans, Hindus, Humanists, Jewish, Muslims, and others who are Unitarian Universalists.

One of the sources that UU congregations affirm and promote is:

Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life. – Bylaws and Rules

For me, that is Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Daoism, Epicureanism, Existentialism, Humanism, Jainism, Paganism, and Stoicism.

The Seven UU Principles

The Unitarian Universalist congregations do not have a creed or dogma. Instead, they have a statement of shared values. This is expressed in the seven principles.

The seven principles are:

    1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
    2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
    3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
    4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
    5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
    6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
    7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. (Bylaws and Rules)

What a wonderful statement. I already believe these and have no problem affirming and promoting them.

Learn from All Traditions

Learn from all traditions, cling to none. – Jay N. Forrest

There is only one church that would welcome an old pursuer of wisdom such as myself – the Unitarian Universalists.

The UU supports “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”

What does that mean? Rev. Paige Getty explains:

As responsible religious seekers, we recognize that we are privileged to be free, to have resources to pursue life beyond mere survival, to continually search for truth and meaning, to exist beyond bonds of dogma and oppression, and to wrestle freely with truth and meaning as they evolve.

To “continually search for truth and meaning” and to “exist beyond bonds of dogma and oppression,” means that you are free to travel your own spiritual path on your own unique journey.

Many travel a ready-made path. But I think Jiddu Krishnamurti is right,
“Truth is a pathless land.”

But this might confuse some. No path?

“Traveler, there is no path,” said Antonio Machado. “The path is made by walking.”

What is Evidence?

I hold that evidence is my ultimate authority. – The Twelve Principles

It is important to know what counts as evidence. Evidence is objective and verifiable information that supports the probability of a claim being true or false.

What is the difference between evidence and proof? Proof is that degree of evidence that warrants belief. That means that the evidence shows that the claim is probably true.

Now every degree of evidence is not proof. It becomes proof only when it justifies the acceptance of the claim.

The Bible is not evidence, because it rests on two unproven claims. First, that God exists. And second, that the Bible is his word.

Taking the Weekend Off

Live a life that is well balanced; don’t do things in excess. – Daniel Smith

Since November 7, 2020 , I have published a blog post everyday. I did it out of the joy of sharing.

I am now beginning the writing of my next book, which will be about the Wisdom Traditions. This requires a lot of work.

So starting tomorrow, I will no longer be posting on the weekends. So I will only post Monday through Fridays.

This is my attempt at balancing the two types of writing. I hope you enjoy.

 

 

Cultivate Your Garden

There are four goals for the Bodhidaoist, they are to develop the virtues of wisdom, love, courage, and balance.

What we need to guard against is forgetting what we are about. We get so busy doing, we forget to plant the seeds of the virtues. And once the seeds are planted, they need to be cultivated with care and attention.

To help you remember the four virtues, so that you can attend to your garden, just remember four letters: WLCB.

W – Wisdom
L – Love
C – Courage
B – Balance

The Four Virtues of Bodhidaoism

Wisdom, love, courage, and balance are the core virtues of Bodhidaoism, and they are the four goals for which we should aim.

From the updated Twelve Principles, we read:

My first goal is to develop the virtue of wisdom, that I may have perspective, insight, and discernment into the true nature of reality, and thereby make good decisions.

My second goal is to develop the virtue of love, that I may seek the highest good of all beings in thought, word, and deed, without prejudice or bias.

My third goal is to develop the virtue of courage, that I may patiently face the challenges of life, with its pain, loss, danger, impermanence, and uncertainty.

My fourth goal is to develop the virtue of balance, that I may be healthy in body and tranquil in mind, learning to flow with the rhythms of life.

For a copy of the complete Twelve Principles, please visit the Bodhidaoist website: https://www.bodhidaoism.com/Principles/

Great Minds Don’t Think Alike

“Great minds think alike.” – Greek Proverb

This is said when someone discovers that someone else had the same idea. But it struck me as wrong.

Great minds don’t think alike. I later found I was not the only one who thought so.

No, great minds don’t think alike. Great minds see what everybody else sees, but thinks something different.

But maybe this isn’t quite right either. They don’t see what everyone else sees. They are much more careful in their observations. They see details that others don’t. Plus they think outside the boxes.

So great minds think differently because they see what everybody else misses. Perspective and insight work together to give them a deeper and clearer vision.

By the way, the original saying is as follows: “Great minds think alike, though fools seldom differ.” Which suggests that the people that came to the same conclusion aren’t so smart after all.

The Power of Realistic Thinking

And the first step is to recover from the mass delusion that is positive thinking. -Barbara Ehrenreich

The optimist will say that the glass is half full. The pessimist will say it is half empty. Both will be wrong. The glass is actually full, half water and half air. That is called realistic thinking. It doesn’t eliminate half of reality just because it isn’t valued.

The optimist and the pessimist will agree with the statement, “There are two sides to every coin.” But the realist will know they are both wrong, there are three sides to every coin. Again, realistic thinking doesn’t eliminate part of reality just because it isn’t valued.

Realistic thinking knows that good and bad are a part of life, focusing on either is a type of blindness. Good and bad are also subjective, they exist nowhere else but in the mind of the beholder.

There is an old Zen story. There was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe,” replied the old farmer.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” said the old farmer.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy for his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the old farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” replied the old farmer.

After Atheism, What’s Next

Mere unbelief in a personal God is no philosophy at all. – Albert Einstein

Once you realize that a personal God makes no sense, and that the Bible is just another book by fallible men, then what’s next.

Atheism is not a religion, and it is no philosophy of life. Atheism is simply the rejection of the claim that an all-powerful, all-good personal God exists.

Most atheists move on to embrace Humanism. The Humanist Manifesto III states, “Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism or other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good.”

But you won’t find much about developing your spiritual life here. It will not guide you into flourishing or reaching your full potential.

From here some atheists adopt Buddhism or Stoicism. Some may even pursue a philosophical version of Daoism. They are a lot fuller philosophies of life. Here you learn about meditation, going with the flow, and accepting what is not under your control.

But what if you find elements of truth in all four? Is there a philosophy of life that embraces all four, attempting to integrate them into a holistic system? Introducing Bodhidaoism, the way of awakening philosophy of life.

I Do Not Believe in a Personal God

The main source of the present-day conflicts between the spheres of religion and science lies in the concept of a personal God. – Albert Einstein

Principle 4 of the Twelves Principles of Bodhidaoism states, “I confirm that I do not believe in a personal God, the supernatural, or an immortal soul.”

What is a personal God so problematic? Because such a God is incompatible with a world filled with evil. Imagine an all-powerful all-good God sitting idly by as a two-year-old is brutally raped.

I do not believe in a personal God.

In the beginning, man created God in his own image, in the likeness of himself he created the Almighty. So man formed God from the idea of a perfect version of himself without flaw or limitation, and God became a living being. And with this image the priests subdued all other men, making them slaves of religion and government.

I do not believe in a personal God.

 

A. C. Grayling is Wrong

A difference between this and other histories of philosophy is that this one does not detour into what most others give, namely, accounts of the theologies of Augustine, some of the Church Fathers of early Christianity and the ‘Schoolmen’ of later medieval times such as Aquinas and Duns Scotus. This is a history of philosophy, not of theology and religion. – A C. Grayling (from The History of Philosophy)

Here is a good example of anti-Christian bias. Furthermore, he is wrong, theology is philosophizing from a presupposition. Just because their philosophy included a God doesn’t mean that it wasn’t philosophy.

Just to demonstrate his anti-Christian bias, all you have to do is notice that he includes Buddhism, Confucianism, and Jainism. He claims that Jainism “is not a religion but a philosophy.”

And the fact that he dedicates several pages to Spinoza, the God-intoxicated man, proves again his bias. For as long as the God to postulate is not a theistic God, then you are doing philosophy. But once you postulate a theistic God, poof you are no longer a philosopher.

Philosophy deals with the existence of God, but, it seems, that once you affirm the existence of God it all of a sudden stops being philosophy. The same activity takes place before affirming the existence of God and after affirming the existence of God.

The simple fact is that theology is philosophy, it is just that it is bad philosophy.

If Mr. Grayling didn’t want to write about Christian philosophers, fine, just say that. But to deny that what they did was philosophy is just plain wrong.

 

Are You a Philosopher?

The person who is in the best position to decide whether you long for wisdom and sincerely seek it, is you yourself. Call yourself a philosopher if you know you sincerely long for wisdom and have, as one of your life projects, the pursuit of wisdom, which you may do not only by studying Philosophy, but also by mixing the study of Philosophy with the study of other subjects and/or immersion in other pursuits. – Bryer Sophia-Gardener

I liked Bryer’s answer on Quora so well I have decided to share it here.

Philosophy literally means the love of wisdom, but in the context of the early Greeks, it probably means something more like the pursuit of wisdom.

Here is a news flash for many, you don’t need a philosophy degree to be a philosopher. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Leibniz didn’t have degrees.

Are you a serious pursuer of wisdom? Then you are a philosopher.

Introducing the Enchiridion

Some things are in our control and others not. – Epictetus

The single best introduction to Stoicism by an ancient Stoic is the Enchiridion by Epictetus.

The word enchiridion is an adjective meaning “in the hand” or “ready to hand”. This is a short handbook of the summary of what Epictetus taught, compiled by his student Arrian.

He begins with what seems obvious, “Some things are in our control and others not.” But here is the key, we spend much of our time, attention, and worrying about things that are not in our control.

The Stoics taught that we need to “accept with serenity” the things we cannot control. If you can’t control it, then it is none of your business.

If you are just getting into Stoicism, the Enchiridion is the best place to start. To help you, here are two great resources to get you started for free.

Read for Free:
https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/epictetus/the-enchiridion/elizabeth-carter

Listen for Free:
https://librivox.org/the-enchiridion-by-epictetus-tr-elizabeth-carter/

Forming Not Merely Informing

One could say that ancient philosophical discourse aimed at forming rather than informing students. – Pierre Hadot

It may seem strange to think of philosophy as a transformative activity, but it used to be. To the Epicureans and Stoics, this was what it was.

But if you go to a philosophy class in almost any university, what do you find? Information, not transformation.

I would argue that most “philosophers” today are not pursuers of wisdom, but peddlers of theories. They play word games, study logic, and practice rhetoric, but wisdom is not even on their radar.

“I have felt very strongly,” writes Pierre Hadot, “that it was Epicureanism and Stoicism which could nourish the spiritual life of men and women of our times, as well as my own.”

Have you ever thought of philosophy as nourishing the spiritual life?

It’s About Flourishing Not Happiness

Becoming fully human is about living a full existence, not one that is continually happy. – Scott Barry Kaufman

Happy is a greatly misunderstood and misused word. As the Online Etymology Dictionary explains, happy is from hap meaning “chance, fortune,” and -y meaning “full of or characterized by.” So it originally meant “lucky, favored by fortune, being in advantageous circumstances, prosperous.”

The meaning “greatly pleased and content” is from the 1520s. And now it means “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment” (Lexico.com).

Feeling pleasure is not and should never be the aim of humans. The Stoics said that the aim should be eudaimonia. This Greek word is commonly mistranslated as “happiness.” A more accurate translation would be “flourishing.”

In Bodhidaoism, there are three goals, a moral life, a spiritual life, and a flourishing life. Flourishing means “marked by vigorous and healthy growth” (Merriam-Webster.com), and “developing rapidly and successfully; thriving” (Lexico.com).

Let us seek to live a full existence.

It is not the years in your life but the life in your years that counts.
– Adlai Stevenson

Say Needful Things

Say needful things, or say nothing at all. – The Havamal

I am of Scandinavian ancestry, so I have studied old Norse philosophy. The Havamal is attributed to the god Odin, who is associated with wisdom, healing, death, and the runic alphabet.

It is hard to practice this vary wise saying of only saying needful things. We love to share our thoughts. Silence makes us feel uncomfortable, and even neglected.

But we have never learned anything by talking, only by listening.

To say nothing at all seems strange to some people. But still waters run deep.

Judging what is needful is another problem. We are not always good at deciding what should be said and what shouldn’t.

There is a great saying that might help, “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”

The Three C’s

Our destiny is to live out what we think, because unless we live what we know, we do not even know it. – Thomas Merton

I have already spoken of how important our thoughts are, and that we should choose our voluntary thoughts carefully. But Thomas Merton brings up another aspect.

What does he mean by saying that “unless we live what we know, we do not even know it”? In order to explain my interpretation, I must explain the three C’s.

There are three criteria we can use to determine if a claim is true. They are the three C’s: correspondence, coherence, and consequences. Correspondence refers to the evidence that a claim matches reality. Coherence refers to the quality of the claim being logical and consistent with other reliable claims. And consequences refer to the result or effect of putting the claim into action.

Thomas Merton is, in my view, talking about the third C, which is consequences. So “unless we live what we know, we do not even know it.” That is, we only really understand a claim is true if we put it into action and see the results.

 

What We Think About

What we think about when we are free to think about what we will – that is what we are or will soon become. – A. W. Tozer

The idea that our thoughts shape us is only partly right. There are many involuntary thoughts that fly through our brains daily. These do not shape us.

In fact, we would be much better off if we didn’t believe everything we think. For many of these involuntary thoughts are merely modules in the brain firing off ideas. Others are scripts that have been implanted into our minds while growing up.

No, what shapes us is voluntary thoughts. It is what we focus on that influences us. These are the things that we need to be wary of.

The involuntary thoughts we need to treat like a bird flying over our head, and just ignore them. But we can certainly stop the birds from making a nest in our hair. Don’t entertain unwholesome thoughts.

This is why aphorisms and maxims are helpful. They bring us back to wholesome and helpful thoughts. By pondering on them we grow in knowledge, understanding, and practical wisdom.

About Knowledge and Experience

The noun ‘knowledge’ and the verb ‘to know’ are used in a large variety of ways. – Robert M. Martin

The word ‘knowledge’ is nearly useless because of how imprecise it is. If we are going to talk intelligently we need to be much clearer.

I will, usually, use ‘knowledge’ to refer to claims that are accepted as true because they are justified and reliable. Whole books are devoted to this subject, so we won’t dwell on that here. The main point here is that knowledge deals with words and concepts.

My purpose today is to specify what is not knowledge. What is usually called know-how is not knowledge. It is better-termed as experience, by which I mean “direct observation of or participation in events.” It is only when you translate this experience into words and concepts does it become knowledge.

Another case is when we say that we know someone. Again, it is primarily an experience of “direct observation of or participation” with the other person. And again, it becomes knowledge when we translate that into words and concepts.

We could say that there are two kinds of experience, the procedural experience of doing, and the personal experience of being. And knowledge can also be of two kinds, propositional knowledge of an individual claim, and perspectival knowledge of a synthesis of many claims giving one an overall view of things.

The thing about perspectival knowledge is that it is the place where knowledge is compared to experience, where the map is matched to the territory. It is only here that we know whether or not our philosophy of life corresponds to reality.

So all knowledge deals with words and concepts, while experience deals with non-verbal interactions.

The Truth Will Set You Free

The truth that set me free cost me everything I have. – Gregg Eisenberg

Yup, it’s true.

When you set your heart on truth, you will find out just how much you don’t know.

When you set your heart on truth, you will learn that the things you own end up owning you.

Uncomfortable, yes. But it is worth it if you want to be wise.

Religion vs Philosophy of Life

A religion is something you join, a philosophy of life is something you adopt. – Jay N. Forrest

I have gone back and forth on what to call Bodhidaoism, which I describe as a worldview and way of life that seeks to guide people in living wisely. Is this “worldview and way of life” a religion or a philosophy?

Both Buddhism and Daoism are usually considered religions, while Stoicism and Humanism are usually considered philosophies. Both words have their problems.

Paul Kurtz saw the same problem, so he coined the term Eupraxsophy “in order to distinguish nontheistic beliefs and practices from other systems of beliefs and practices.”

In three decades, unfortunately, the word has gained zero traction. So we are stuck with a religion or philosophy. Religion makes most people think of the worship of God, and modern philosophy is largely a cognitive exercise with little or no relevance to life.

So at least now you understand why I have gone back and forth on what to call Bodhidaoism. In my first book on Bodhidaoism, I called it a “secular religion.” It might also be called a personal religion.

But now I am tending to call it a philosophy of life because it lacks one thing that Buddhism and Daoism have, and that is an institution. Daniel Dennett’s working definition of religions is: “social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought.”

I disagree with the requirement of “belief in a supernatural agent or agents”, but think he may be right about the “social systems” part. What doesn’t Stoicism and Humanism have? Churches, temples, or monasteries.

In this, Bodhidaoism is probably closer to a philosophy of life than it is to a religion. After all, a religion is something you join, and in Bodhidaoism there is nothing to join. But you can adopt it as your own philosophy of life.

Why Four Wisdom Traditions?

It is important to draw wisdom from many different places. If we take it from only one place it becomes rigid and stale. – Iroh

I have not chosen the four traditions of Bodhidaoism haphazardly. I have chosen them so that their strength and weaknesses complement one another.

For example, Stoicism is an active and extroverted tradition. It works great in public life and politics. Daoism, on the other hand, is more introverted and passive, adapting to the flow of things.

Another example, Humanism is about using reason and science to understand and control the world. While Buddhism is about using consciousness and learning to let go and just be. It is about becoming the observer. Humanism is more socially engaged, while Buddhism is more introspective and personal.

Humanism is like fire in teaching you to see the truth, Buddhism is like air teaching to be aware of reality as it is, Daoism is like water in teaching you to flow, and Stoicism is like the Earth in teaching you resilience.

Having Four Wisdom Traditions allows you to draw wisdom from many different places and people. It also helps your mind and heart from becoming rigid and stale. Understanding the Four Wisdom Traditions will help you become whole, balanced, and wiser.

In Praise of Doubt

Doubt is the beginning, not the end, of wisdom. – George Iles

Wisdom doesn’t begin with knowledge, it begins with doubt. Until you have honestly questioned your own beliefs, you have not even begun the journey.

I have met a number of really smart people, especially in my college days. But really wise people, I have met very few.

Wisdom is more than knowledge, but knowledge is a part of wisdom. The wise know things, but they know more than concepts and definitions.

The world is not black and white. Wisdom knows the evil and good, but also understands the in-between. The wise both think and live the virtues.

The reason wisdom is so hard to define is that wisdom is a collective name for all the virtues working in harmony. Wisdom is what wisdom does.

But it all begins by questioning everything. Nothing is off-limits in the pursuit of wisdom and truth.

Aphorisms Require Interpretation

The irony is that the aphorism – this shortest of forms to read – actually takes the longest time to understand. – Andrew Hui

Andrew Hui defines the aphorism as “a short saying that requires interpretation.”

What I find interesting is that the longer I work with aphorisms the more I think he is right.

I think the reason this is true is that an aphorism is free-floating. It is not tied to a context and we seldom know the author’s intent. Some are even anonymous.

It is the multi-perspectival nature of aphorisms that make them so useful. It is something to think with, rather than merely something to think on.

It allows you to think with a verbal prism in your mind. It throws off colors that you would normally not be able to see. It permits you to think outside your paradigms. If used correctly, that is. And there is the rub.

The Futility of Faith

Faith is believing what you know ain’t so. – Mark Twain

Faith is not merely believing something, it is specifically believing something without evidence.

A belief is a claim that is accepted as true, which then becomes a rule of action. The word belief does not specify on which basis someone believes it.

For religious people, faith is “the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11.1 KJV). That is, faith is a belief that has no evidence for it. Faith takes the place of evidence. “Faith is the evidence.”

To be a little clearer, it is faith in the authority of a book, prophet, or guru. So faith rests on the logical fallacy known as the appeal to false authority.

A prophet, apostle, or some religious leader is not an authority on the nature of reality. And every religion contradicts another religion. So they can’t all be true.

So Mark Twain is not that far off when he says, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” Because knowledge is based on evidence, faith is not.

Faith is believing something without evidence. It is, in other words, accepting as true what you have no good reasons to believe is true.

Begin Again

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. – Charles Dederich

It is a New Year. It is the first day of the rest of your life. Forget the past and begin again.

A New Year can mean a new beginning at living your life more fully. Forget all the silly New Years’ resolutions that are broken days or weeks after they are made.

Rather, pick one habit that you want to change. Study that habit. Pay attention and identify the challenges you face in overcoming that habit.

Notice motivational challenges, skill deficiencies, social influences, and environmental and structural challenges. Then devise an action plan to counter all those negative challenges.

It is important to hit the habit with a combined force of personal, social, and environmental countermeasures.

Habits are very hard to break because there are many strings that keep us bound to them. You must cut most of these in order to give your willpower a fighting chance.

You only have a limited supply of mental energy to use in forming a new habit. Use it wisely.

You must even the odds of success by enlisting as many aids and helps as you can muster. And you must design them for you and your unique set of challenges.

An Evidence-Based Life

Religious beliefs must be founded on evidence; if they are not so founded, it is wrong to hold them. W. K. Clifford

If mistaken beliefs can be the source of unhappiness, then how do we correct such beliefs? By looking at the evidence for and against them.

Evidence is a set of facts that support a claim. A claim is simply a statement that is either true or false. Now if, after evaluating the evidence, it shows that the claim is probably true, you should accept the claim.

But watch out for confirmation bias. We tend to search for, interpret, and favor information that confirms what we already believe. And we tend to unconsciously ignore information that does not support our belief.

Now if there is little or no evidence for a claim, you should reject the claim as probably false. That means to no longer believe it and therefore stop acting as if it were true.

And if there is not enough evidence either way, you should suspend judgment about the claim. This also means stop believing it.

I am happier and more grounded in reality by living an evidence-based life. But truth sometimes has a bitter taste.

Your Beliefs Are Making You Sick

Epicurus thought that he could trace the causes of human unhappiness to mistaken beliefs in his society, beliefs about the gods, the destiny of the soul, and the objects in life which are truly valuable. – A. A. Long

There are two equal and opposite errors that people make about beliefs. The first, that beliefs can move mountains. The second, that beliefs don’t count for much.

First, we must define beliefs correctly, and this is seldom done. A belief is a claim that is accepted as true, which then becomes a rule of action. A belief that is not acted on is not a belief but is mere mental assent.

Second, the claim does not need to be clearly articulated. Most are not. Rather they are assumptions that are just taken for granted. They are absorbed from family, friends, and society. They are very hard to detect.

Now Epicurus comes along and suggests that the causes of human unhappiness are mistaken beliefs in society. By unhappiness, he is talking about what we might call mental illnesses, and what the Buddhists would call suffering.

Stop and consider it for a second.

Your mistaken beliefs are making you sick.

Bertrand Russell Agrees with Me

Of the great religions, I prefer Buddhism, especially in its earliest forms, because it has had the smallest element of persecution. – Bertrand Russell

Now it may seem strange to claim that a long-dead man agrees with a contemporary person. So let me explain.

I have, since 2011, been convinced that Buddhism, “especially in its earliest forms,” is the best of all the religions. But today I discovered that Bertrand Russell would agree. Hence his view was discovered after I came to my own conclusion.

It is interesting, however, to notice the reason he gives for this, “because it has had the smallest element of persecution.” This is a half-truth.

While it is true that Buddhist scripture condemns violence in every form, there have been ethnic wars within Buddhist countries for a long time. Nobody informed about the history of Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar will doubt this. Muslims destroyed Buddhism from India, and now there is a deep-seated animosity between them.

“Separation of church and state” is the most important gift we received from Thomas Jefferson and the founding fathers. Once religion and government merge persecution will follow as surely as water runs downhill. It is just a matter of time.

Even the best of religions can go wrong when they have the power to do so.

I Am a Skeptic, Are You?

Briefly stated, a skeptic is one who is willing to question any claim to truth, asking for clarity in definition, consistency in logic, and adequacy of evidence. – Paul Kurtz

I am a skeptic, I don’t believe what I don’t have good reasons to believe. And it is because I am willing to question any belief I have, I have changed my mind a number of times.

Clarity of definition is the first sign of clarity of thought. If you can’t define your terms, then you probably don’t know what you are talking about.

I found this common in Bible college. I would ask a fellow student what being born again meant, and they would say, “Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior.” Then I would ask, what does it mean to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Some would reply, “It means being born again.”

You can imagine the responses I got when I asked about sanctification, justification, or regeneration. They were clueless, and many of my professors were no better.

Consistency in logic does not tell you that something is true, but inconsistency does tell you that something is false. A contradiction is a sure sign of error somewhere.

And adequacy of evidence is vital. People mistake mere assertion for evidence. Or they appeal to a holy book. Just because it’s written in a book doesn’t make it true. There has to be evidence, that is verifiable and objective information that adequately supports the claim.

A skeptic will not accept any claim without “clarity in definition, consistency in logic, and adequacy of evidence.”

Humanism: A New Religion

It is just as inaccurate to say that religion without the supernatural is not religion as it is to say that philosophy without metaphysics is not philosophy at all. – Charles Francis Potter

In 1929, Charles Francis Potter founded the First Humanist Society of New York, whose advisory board included Julian Huxley, John Dewey, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Mann. He was one of the original 34 signers of the first Humanist Manifesto in 1933.

All the original founders of modern Humanism thought of Humanism as a new religion. The Humanist Manifesto I makes this clear, “To establish such a religion is a major necessity of the present.”

But when the American Humanist Association was formed in 1941, the goal was not to establish a religion as Potter had originally intended. They decided on an educational initiative instead. Potters vision was lost.

It is my intention to pick up Potter’s vision with the creation of Bodhidaoism. Much has changed since 1930 when Potter wrote his book Humanism: A New Religion. I have dropped the organizational focus and enlarged the tent to include an international scope.

Bodhidaoism is the only religion that is born with an international focus. Bodhi is the Pali language word of India, dao is from the Chinese, and ism is a suffix derived from the Greek language. And Bodhidaoism is now an English word. No other religion can say that even its name is international.

The Three Treasures of Daoism

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. – Laozi

Simplicity is hard. We complicate things by adding concepts to experience, judgments to concepts, and emotions to judgments. Then we are stressed, anxious, angry, sad, and depressed.

Daoism teaches us to return to the now, the here, and the experience of the flow and flux of reality. This is called the Dao.

Patience is a virtue, but we are not good at it. We live in a world of instant pots, instant coffee, and instant results. We are impatient, uptight, and are a slave to the clock.

Return to nature and feel the natural rhythm of the day, the moon, and the seasons. We are controlled by the clock because we have said yes when we should have said no. Say no to the nonessential.

Compassion is hard to find in a world torn apart by political fights, religious wars, and personal conflicts. A million warring egos battle for all that they can conquer.

Compassion is about having sympathy and concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others. We are all in this together. We are an interconnected web of life. We must learn to open our hearts before our mouths, listen before we speak, and not judge others so harshly.

These three virtues of Daoism are, according to Laozi, your greatest treasures. Find them, keep them, cultivate them, and then give them away.

Jesus Was Not Born Today

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night… For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:8, 11 NKJV).

Whether or not Jesus was an actual historical person is still disputed, but if the biblical account is to be trusted, we know for sure Jesus was not born on December 25th.

The simple fact is that in the middle of winter shepherds near Bethlehem would not be “living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” They only did this in the warm months of the year.

The Catholic Encyclopedia admits that “Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church.” In other words, the early church never celebrated the birth of Jesus, let alone on December 25th.

Encyclopedia Britannica explains that:

“The reason why Christmas came to be celebrated on December 25 remains uncertain, but most probably the reason is that early Christians wished the date to coincide with the pagan Roman festival marking the ‘birthday of the unconquered sun’ (natalis solis invicti); this festival celebrated the winter solstice, when the days again begin to lengthen and the sun begins to climb higher in the sky. The traditional customs connected with Christmas have accordingly developed from several sources as a result of the coincidence of the celebration of the birth of Christ with the pagan agricultural and solar observances at midwinter.

So as I said, Jesus was not born today. But you know who was? Isaac Newton, the English physicist, mathematician, and astronomer. He was born December 25, 1642, in Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, England.

Happy birthday to Newton, science, and the enlightenment.

Spilling My Mind

To say you know when you know, and to say you do not when you do not, this is knowledge. – Confucius

I have met far too many people who pretend to know what they do not know. It doesn’t help that I am well-read and can spot such pretense.

I do not know a lot of things, I do not find that shameful, but inevitable. The larger your pool of knowledge, the greater your shores of ignorance.

But sometimes I do know and still am silent. It is not always good to share your knowledge with those that will not appreciate it.

I made this mistake far too often in the past. I still occasionally slip and spill my mind.

Here is the honest reality. People are interested in the truth only so long as it proves what they already believe. Information and facts that contradict their beliefs will get you unfriended, or worse.

So next time you have the chance, listen twice as long before you speak.

The Shifting of Responsibility

The more man puts into God, the less he retains in himself. – Karl Marx

This is actually more profound than it might first appear.

I will not deny that the God idea has some benefits, but it also has some downfalls. The first is the shifting of responsibility. We can always blame God for the evil we do, either by commanding us to do it or by not helping us not do it.

God commanded Isreal to “kill both man and woman, child and infant” (1 Samuel 15:2-3). You can justify any atrocity in the name of God. History provides more than enough proof of this.

But God also depletes what little strength you have to stop doing wrong and start doing good. We are powerless and helpless, we are told. We need God to strengthen us in order to live right. Original sin this is called. It is a horrible error.

But when the illusion of a personal God is gone all of us become accountable, all of us are responsible. You can’t blame your bad deeds on God. There is no God. There is you and you are to blame.

But we fail. Yes, but we are responsible and therefore we can fix it. If we are not responsible, then we become helpless victims. Then we are without hope, help, or any future.

Signs of Weakness

It is a sign of weakness to avoid showing signs of weakness. – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

We seldom what to be seen as we really are. We pretend to be strong, intelligent, and in control. But we are not.

This is a problem with society. We are not honest, and the honest are disregarded at best. Our masks protect us, but they also separate us.

I am not that strong. I am not alright. You can’t live in this world of ego wars and come out unscathed. We are all broken inside, even the ones doing a great job as actors and actresses.

I know, there are people out there who are pretty convincing. They look like they got it all together. They look like they have everything they want and are so very happy.

But don’t buy the advertising. Appearances are not necessarily reality.

The Dao that Can be Spoken

The Dao that can be spoken is not the eternal Dao. The Name that can be named is not the eternal Name. – Laozi

Dao is the modern way of transliterating the Chinese, Tao is the older way. It is pronounced dow.

Dao is usually translated as the Way. But this misses a lot. The Dao is the rhythm and flow of Nature. It is beyond words and descriptions.

A reality that can be captured by words is not really reality. A name can represent but not replace the thing named. Reality is always bigger than words and names.

Words are not real but are only symbols of the real. Words are important but not sufficient. Words are containers of meaning not reality. Experience, perspective, and actual practice are needed to fill in the meaning words leave out.

But far too many cannot get past the words. The symbols block their vision, blind their minds, and cloud reality from being known. This is why we must practice. This is why words must be put to death.

Only in a wordless world can we use words safely.

Heeding Advice

If you see a person not asking for advice or not heeding advice given to him, expect to see him deluded soon. – Elder Joseph the Hesychast

The journey through life is filled with dangers and perils of many kinds. There are so many mistakes we can make and so many blind spots. If we can find a person of wisdom, we should seek and heed their advice.

But there are few wise persons in this modern world, especially for one walking a spiritual path devoid of the supernatural. Atheists tend to be smart, not wise.

There are those, though, who walk a natural path. I am thinking of the Buddhists, the Stoics, the Naturalistic Pagans, the Philosophical Daoists, and the Religious Humanists. Here we may find spiritual advice and brothers and sisters of the inner way.

Worldly things we can ask the worldly, but spiritual things require something deeper, someone deeper. Seek out such a friend or mentor. Heed their advice. It will spare you many years of wandering.

Spiritual Awakening

Opening one’s eyes may take a lifetime, seeing is done in a flash. – Anthony de Mello

The word spiritual refers to one’s consciousness, one’s awareness of reality. Awakening is about opening one’s eyes.

When you are sleeping you are unconscious of the world around you. Your eyes are closed and your mind is closed to the outside world. This is the picture of the person who is unawakened. They are asleep. They are living in a dream world.

The metaphor is really quite powerful. Asleep in life. Walking unaware. Going through the motions. Sleepwalking through life. Living in a dream world, fighting shadows and phantoms. The symbolism is deep.

Now imagine waking up in the morning. You open your eyes. You become conscious of the world around you. You see reality. You hear the birds outside. You feel the heat of the sun through the window. Your senses are alive. You feel alive.

This is what it is like to wake up spiritually.

The reality you wake up to is not some supernatural otherworld, it is the reality that is right here and exists right now. It now looks different because you are fully aware of it. You see what was ignored before. So much was never noticed.

Have you ever traveled a road a thousand times and then one day you notice a little shop that you never noticed before? The shop has been there for years, but you had never saw it before. That is part of what waking up means. Noticing reality for the first time.

The Obstacle is the Path

The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. – Marcus Aurelius

We will never be who we need to be until we go through the fires of adversity. For it is the heat the purifies the gold.

We look at obstacles in the wrong way. We think we should avoid them or remove them. But sometimes what we need to do is embrace them.

The obstacle is the path. Not sometimes, but always. It is what is real, it is the present lesson. “What stands in the way becomes the way.”

It is in dealing with obstacles that we learn about ourselves. We learn about our weaknesses, our strengths, and where we have not yet surrendered our attempt to control the uncontrollable.

Water does not complain about the rock in its way. It does not stop and worry about it being there. It does not try to move what cannot be moved. It simply flows.

Be like water and flow with reality as it truly is. What you can’t change, embrace.

So Little Time

It’s not that we have little time, but more that we waste a good deal of it. – Seneca

I wish I could say that I am different, but I am not. I have wasted far too much time on things that don’t matter.

I can not help but think of how much time we waste on social media. Scrolling through pictures, tweets, and posts. And for what?

You know you are wasting time when after you are done, neither you nor someone else has been benefited. If you, or someone else, are neither smarter, wiser, happier, or better off, you have wasted your time.

This does not mean you need to constantly be doing something or accomplishing something, For sometimes the best thing is to relax and rejuvenate. But then you are better off and it is no longer a waste of time.

Reading this blog, if you are learning from it, is not a waste of time. Especially if you remember and practice the things I am teaching you. I am giving you tools to use in time of need.

Wisdom is Hidden Everywhere

Wisdom is not a respecter of persons, it can be found in every tradition. – Jay N. Forrest

I am no longer a Christian. I no longer believe in God, Christ, the Bible, or salvation. But I do not hate Christianity.

I see Christianity as a flawed attempt at understanding the world before science and technology. It was wrong about many things, but it did understand the human heart. Or at least some people did.

If you eliminate God, the supernatural, and an afterlife, there is wisdom still to be found there. You will discover little nuggets of insight into the ways of humankind.

One of our former presidents, Thomas Jefferson, understood this. He created the Jefferson Bible by cutting out the supernatural parts, keeping the ethical teachings.

This can be done with every religion and philosophy. Therefore, do not be confused, just because I quote from a person, doesn’t mean I agree with anything else they may have said. But the quote I have used I believe to be helpful.

Don’t despise the truth just because it wasn’t delivered by your preferred messenger. – Jay N. Forrest

One last note. I cannot ethically correct the quotes of those who did not use gender neutral language. They said what they said. I, however, will always try to use gender neutral language. It is important to me.

Overcoming Forgetfulness

What gets repeated, gets remembered. – Anonymous

Advertisers spend millions of dollars to get their ads played over and over again. Why? Because the repetition of things has an effect on us.

The truth that is soon forgotten is no different than the truth never learned. Only the remembered truths can guide our actions, help us make better decisions, and transform our lives.

The best way to remember a truth is to turn it into an aphorism. What is that, you might ask? An aphorism is “a pithy observation that contains a general truth, such as, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it'” (OED).

So let me turn, at least for a while, to this method of teaching. It will give you something to hang on the wall of your mind.

Let me create an aphorism for you right now:

An aphorism a day helps keep forgetfulness away. – Jay N. Forrest

Studying Humanism

Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality (IHEU Minimum Statement on Humanism).

Humanism is foundational to our view of reality and our respect for science. Its modern incarnation began in the early 20th Century with John H. Dietrich, Charles Francis Potter, Raymond B. Bragg, and Roy Wood Sellars. They helped created the Humanist Manifesto I, which I still think is the best of the Manifestos in expressing the need for a new religion.

But Humanism has deep roots in the ancient world as well. For example, in China as Confucianism, in Greece as Epicureanism, in India in Charvaka, and in modern Existentialism.

My favorite book on “Humanistic Religious Naturalism” is Reason and Reverence by William R. Murry. A good background to the humanist Manifesto I is The Genesis of a Humanist Manifesto by Edwin H. Wilson. For a more secular take, see The Philosophy of Humanism by Corliss Lamont and Living Without Religion by Paul Kurtz.

Since I mentioned Paul Kurtz, I think he is probably one of the most underrated philosophers of our time. I really wish eupraxsophy, a term he coined, would have caught on. Bodhidaoism is a eupraxsophy, which means “good practical wisdom.”

Learn to Meditate with the Buddhists

To master Buddhism could take a lifetime. There are so many traditions and practices that you could get lost in the woods without guidance.

My advice is to learn mindfulness meditation first.

I still think the best book is Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield. Another good introduction is Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment and Your Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

If you want to get back to the Buddha’s actual teaching on meditation, you can’t do better than Satipaṭṭhāna: The Direct Path to Realization by Analayo. The Satipaṭṭhāna is available free at https://suttacentral.net/mn10/en/sujato.

For Buddhism in general, I recommend reading The Dhammapada: The Buddha’s Path of Wisdom translated by Ācāriya Buddharakkhita. This is the most popular Buddhist scripture. There are versions online.

One last note. You need to know that the Theravada branch of Buddhism is the closest to the teaching of the historical Buddha. Mahayana Buddhism originated long after the Buddha’s death. Let’s just say it changed some things.

Start with Stoicism

A Bodhidaoist affirms their dedication to learning from the wisdom traditions of Buddhism, Daoism, Stoicism, and Humanism. Where is one to begin?

Start with Stoicism.

For most Westerners, it is best to begin with Stoicism because it is the closest to Christianity. The fact is that Christianity borrowed a lot from Stoicism.

You should begin by reading three books by actual Stoics. The Discourses and Selected Writings by Epictetus, the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and the Letters from a Stoic by Seneca. Versions can be found online for free.

My favorite book by a modern author about Stoicism is Stoicism and the Art of Happiness by Donald Robertson. Another good one is A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine. Ryan Holiday, John Sellars, and Massimo Pigliucci have some good books as well.

But be careful you don’t get in the trap of reading about Stoicism but never living it. It’s easy to do.

Becoming a Bodhidaoist

Do you have a religion or philosophy of life that guides you in living wisely and finding contentment? If not, why not consider adopting Bodhidaoism? [Pronounced: bow-dee-DOW-ism]

Bodhidaoism  is a worldview and way of life that seeks to guide people in living wisely with contentment in a world without a personal God, the supernatural, or an afterlife. It is a “way of awakening” that learns from the wisdom traditions of Buddhism, Daoism, Stoicism, and Humanism, comparing them to the latest findings of the sciences.

Identifying as a Bodhidaoist means accepting the Twelve Affirmations (https://jayforrest.blog/bodhidaoism/) and making a personal commitment to yourself to live according to them. Bodhidaoism is a personal path without clergy, church, or Bible.

For those that would like to, you can say out loud to yourself the following:

I call my mind and body as witnesses today of the dedication of my life to Bodhidaoism. I accept the Twelve Affirmations and commit myself to living according to them to the best of my ability. I now begin my pursuit of wisdom, goodness, inner peace, and environmental protection.

The Cost of the Truth

I can still remember the fateful day back in Bible college. I was just beginning my studies in philosophy and truly felt the desire to know the truth. It was then that I declared, out loud, “I want to know the truth no matter what the cost.”

Those were not empty words. I really meant them, and I still do. It is the one consistent rule of my life. But loving the truth means changing your mind as fast and as often as you have increasing knowledge on a subject. It means that you have to be alright with being wrong.

This is why I left Christianity. It is not the truth it claims to be. There is no evidence for a personal God, the Bible being the word of God, or an afterlife in heaven or hell. And Jesus is not the greatest teacher who ever lived. That honor has to go to the Buddha.

Truth is when what you believe to be the case is actually the case. And the only way to know whether what you believe matches reality is by the evidence for it. An evidence-based life is the only life for a lover of truth.

Idealistic Youth

When we are young we tend to be idealistic. We go into the world with images of how it should be. But not only does the world not budge, it usually hits us right in the face.

Great knowledge without wisdom and without love is deadly. If it doesn’t lead to homicide it might lead instead to suicide, or at least depression and despair. The unawakened life sucks.

This is where I am supposed to give you some positive thinking and optimistic platitude. But I can’t do that. It is not authentic, real, or very helpful. The truth is that the world is not in a good way. I could list the ways that it is not well, but what’s the point?

The secret is to not want or expect the world to be any different than it is. Yes, we should do what we can to change it, but we have to accept reality as it is. If you are going to find any peace in this world you are going to have to find it within. The sooner you do so, the better.

Life is a Lesson

The greatest lesson in life is that life is a lesson. – Jay N. Forrest

It is not that life is designed to be a lesson, but rather life is best lived as a series of lessons. Approaching life as a student opens us to learning from it, rather than suffering from it.

Think of the difference of mind between someone who is teachable and someone who isn’t. Wisdom is not something that arrives at your door in a nicely wrapped package. It is more like a rock that falls through your roof.

Life is a series of lessons only if you are a student of life. Life can be a hard taskmaster just as well. The magic is in your attitude towards life.

Transforming a Wisdom Tradition

So how does one learn from different wisdom traditions? No two wisdom traditions agree. They not only contradict one another, but they also contradict what you might believe to be true.

Since we can’t just adopt another wisdom tradition wholesale, they must go through a process of transformation. This must be built on a foundation of a correct understanding of the tradition.

First, we must give the tradition the most charitable interpretation possible. Epicureanism, for example, is often interpreted antagonistically by Stoics.

Second, if a tradition’s teachings can be reconciled with Bodhidaoism, then this should be done. This may mean putting a spin on the interpretation when the sources allow it.

Third, in cases where reconciliation is not possible, reinterpret the teaching to fit Bodhidaoism. This should be clearly indicated when doing so.

Fourth, sometimes neither reconciliation nor reinterpretation is possible. Outright rejection is the last resort, but sometimes we have no other choice.

Fifth, ignore those areas of a tradition that is better answered through the natural or social sciences. Epicurean and Stoic physics, for example, are no longer relevant.

This is the process I use with Bodhidaoism.

The Art of Living

Philosophy is not a science, but an art. It is the pursuit of wisdom in the art of living.

But that is not what most people think of when they hear the word philosophy.

Most modern philosophy is a waste of time, having no practical use. Most modern philosophers are like the person who stirs up a cloud of dust and they complain that they can’t see.

But ancient philosophy, as it was originally conceived, was above all a way of life. It had practical worth.

As Epicurus once said, “Vain is the word of a philosopher which does not heal any suffering of humanity. For just as there is no point in medicine if it does not expel the disease of the body, so there is no profit in philosophy either, if it does not expel the suffering of the mind.”

Evil is Not a Problem

The universe doesn’t care about you. It is indifferent to your suffering and unmoved by your tears. It is a completely impersonal system of causes and conditions.

Because I don’t believe in a supreme being, I don’t have a problem with evil in the natural world. This kind of evil is not a problem, it is a part of the natural system.

This means we can deal with the evil we can control, I am speaking of moral evil. Moral evil refers to the unjust harm that is intentionally done by humans to other sentient beings. This evil we can stop by law, by example, by societal pressure, and by education and training.

Evil is caused by humans. Humans are not all-good. They are a mixture of good and bad. Governments and cultures should be so designed as to produce the highest good of all while protecting the rights of each.

Replacing God

God is dead, as Nietzsche said. What will take God’s place?

What is everywhere present, the most powerful thing ever, and which created us and sustains us? Nature or the universe. Nature is also sacred.

All mystical experiences are experiences of a union with nature. Yes, it often is imagined as a person. But this a psychological glitch in humans, not an aspect of reality. In order to understand what is not like us, we make it like us. The fancy word for this is anthropomorphism.

But another replacement for God is fate. Fate is that which is inevitable. It is that which is beyond our control. Instead of saying “God willing,” we should say “fate willing” we do this or that.

Although not a very good moral example, God was a moral example to emulate. This can be replaced with better and more real examples of the sages, such as the Buddha, Laozi, Confucius, Socrates, Zeno, and Epicurus. Even Jesus might be used as an example if we undeify him.

God is the Problem

Believing in God may have given our ancestors comfort in a hostile world, but the comfort came with a cost.

How many crimes against humanity have been carried out in the name of God? Dare I mention the inquisitions, the crusades, or the twin towers in New York. Nothing so quiets the conscience like believing that God requires you to do it.

Faith in God is also a reason many shirk their responsibility for caring for the environment. It is just going to be burned up in fire by God in the last days anyway.

And isn’t the divide between God’s people and the devil’s people the perfect excuse for war? “He who is not with Me is against Me.” This will never lead to peace on earth.

And finally, believing in God is the cause of much mental distress. There is no inner peace if you are constantly worrying that you might have offended God and hence are headed to hell. We must be cured of the God addiction before we can have real peace of mind.

We Created God

The best guess is that the “cosmos is all there is, was, or ever will be.” It may be a multiverse with billions and billions of universes. It could even be an infinite number of universes.

Since the Cosmos has always been and will always be, there is no need for a First Cause. And since evolution explains design in nature, there is no need for a Designer. Therefore there is no evidence for a creator God.

Before we had science to help us understand the universe, all we had to go by was ourselves. This is why we projected personality onto the natural forces of nature. Thunder was Thor’s hammer, and lightning was a bolt from Zeus.

So we created God in our image, we formed him after our likeness. He was a man because we were men. He was jealous because we were jealous. He was white because we were white. We even turned the brown Jesus into a white Jesus with blue eyes and blond hair. God didn’t create us, we created God.

The Problem of Evil

Epicurus was a philosopher in ancient Athens. He was one of the first to articulate the problem of evil.

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not all-powerful.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then from where does evil come?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

The problem of evil eliminates an all-good and all-powerful God. All that is left is either there is no God behind the universe, or else God is indifferent to good and evil, or else God is evil.

No God seems like the logical choice.

But who said humans are logical?

Not Worth Believing

An unexamined worldview is not worth believing. – Jay N. Forrest

A worldview is “the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.”

The problem is that most people don’t know that they have a worldview. It is like glasses, it is something we see through, not something we look at.

But you do have a worldview. You inherited it from your parents, your community, and your culture. And it is probably defective and woefully out of date.

Your worldview was chosen for you. You were soaked in a worldview and conditioned to believe it. Without exposure to alternatives, you had little choice.

But you have a choice today. You can be free to believe as your heart tells you.

Only those that freely, knowingly, and intelligently choose their worldview are no longer acting from blind faith.

The Problem with Stoicism

I am a fan of Stoicism. It is one of the four wisdom traditions that inspire me, but it has a few flaws. I mention only one here.

Stoic morality is based on virtue ethics. Its four virtues are wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation. Do you see something missing?

Stoicism is a philosophy without love. Even when you look at the subdivisions you will not find love. The closest you get is under justice you find equity and fair dealing.

I believe we should add three more virtues to these original four. I think that love, compassion, and mindfulness should be included. That would make seven virtues.

Just think about it for a minute. Love, compassion, and mindfulness were not considered important virtues to Stoicism.

The Four Wise Truths

The four wise truths is an adaption of the four noble truths of Buddhism.

The first wise truth is that the unawakened life is full of suffering. Suffering here is mental pain, stress, or unease.

The second wise truth is that the cause of suffering is the three mind traps, which are attachment, aversion, and unawareness.

The third wise truth is that if you eliminate the mind traps, you eliminate the suffering.

The fourth wise truth is that the way to eliminate the mind traps is through a threefold process of morality, meditation, and wisdom.

Defining Mind and Will

The mind is the embodied system that manages the flow of energy and information.

The will is that which directs the flow of energy and information.

I am a compatibilist. That means that I believe that free will and determinism are mutually compatible. I believe that it is possible to believe in both without being logically inconsistent.

The flow of energy and information is determined, while the directing of that flow is free.

Limited free will, which does not originate the flow but which can direct that flow, is compatible with determinism. The flow is determined, the direction is not.

The Daoists teach us to go with the flow of Nature, the Dao.

A Mealtime Affirmation

As you sit down to eat, realize that there are people who are going hungry.

This isn’t a plea to give to the poor, although that is a commendable thing to do. No, my plea is for you to stop for a moment and be thankful for the food on your table.

Studies in positive psychology have shown that an attitude of gratitude has a positive impact on our lives and moods.

But I don’t believe in God, so praying to God is not an option. But how about thanking the beings that actually did grow and bring this food to my table.

Here is our family’s mealtime affirmation:

We give thanks to all beings who have brought this food to our table, and vow to respond in turn to those in need with wisdom and compassion. Let us eat mindfully.

Give Up All Hope

We need to learn to cope rather than hope. – Jay N. Forrest

Hope is the delusion that things will be better in the future. As if progress is an inevitable law of existence. It is not.

Attachment to a good future outcome is the recipe for suffering. Hope is detrimental to tranquility.

Hope is an expectation about the future, mindfulness is being here in the present moment. Expectations lead to disappointment.

Don’t expect anything and when you don’t get it you will not be disappointed. But if you do get it – surprise!

Love Me As I Am

Love me as I am, but love me enough to not leave me the way you found me. – Jay N. Forrest

To ask someone to love you the way you are, and not try to change you, is to admit that you think that you are perfect. Or equally as bad, that you are not interested in becoming a better person.

For only a perfect person does not need to change and has no room for improvement.

News flash – you are not that person.

But likewise, don’t try to change someone else. Accept them as they are.

The best way to change the world is to change yourself.

Your example is more powerful than your words will ever be.

A Better Society

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. – Leo Tolstoy

In order to have a better society, we need better citizens. You improve the community if you improve the individual.

If you want a better world, you first need to have better humans.

But how?

By adopting a worldview and way of life that holds life and nature as sacred, and that helps people develop moral character, lovingkindness, and compassion for all beings.

I am thinking of Buddhism, Daoism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Existentialism, Confucianism, Humanism, Bodhidaoism, and Spiritual Naturalism.

Just Living is Not Enough

I want to let you in on a little secret, you don’t get wise by just living.

You might think that old age brings forth wisdom, it does not. Even experience doesn’t help some folks.

Wisdom requires a level of self-reflection and self-doubt that is far too uncomfortable for many people.

Many people would rather be right than to be wise.

Wisdom begins not in knowledge, but in knowing that you don’t know. The four most powerful words in the English language are, “I do not know.”

They say that the larger your pool of knowledge, the greater your shores of ignorance.

It’s true.

Defining Naturalistic Spirituality

You would be forgiven if you thought those words incompatible and that naturalistic spirituality was an oxymoron.

The English word spirit comes from the Latin spiritus which means “breath.” When a person dies they breathe their last breath.

Later, in Christianity, spirit came to refer to the supernatural immortal part of humankind given by God. But that is not what spirit originally meant. It simply meant the breath.

I contend that the word spirit refers to our consciousness, our ability to be aware. This ceases at death when we breathe our last breath. We lose consciousness.

Spirituality, then, refers to the quality or state of having or cultivating an expanded or deepened consciousness of our union and communion with reality.

See, no God necessary.

Are You Being Manipulated?

The first question to answer is, what is manipulation?

Wikipedia has a good explanation, “Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the behavior or perception of others through indirect, deceptive, or underhanded tactics.”

This leads us naturally to the second question, how can you tell whether or not you are being manipulated?

You know someone is trying to manipulate you when they try to make you feel guilty, angry, or fearful. These three emotions short circuit critical thinking.

If you want someone to watch your news program, vote for you, or stay with you even if they don’t want to, guilt, fear, and anger are great motivators.

Anyone who manipulates you doesn’t respect you. They just want to use you. Don’t let them!

Trust the Experts

Trust the experts or you should become one.

Experts can be wrong, but trusting the consensus opinion of the experts is the best path to the truth. You simply have no better source of evidence.

If expertise does not matter, then let a truck driver do your next operation. Or let a plumber do your dental work. Or have a stocker from the grocery store fix your car.

Just because experts can be wrong doesn’t mean the non-experts are going to have a better opinion. They won’t.

When the experts reach a consensus, trust that consensus unless other verifiable evidence contradicts it.

A Very Simple Meditation Practice

Meditation is hard. At least it is for me. And I have been at this for decades. So here is my simple meditation instruction for those who don’t like meditating.

You can do this in any position, and in any situation. Begin with just three breaths. As you breathe in say in your mind “open my mind.” As you breathe out say in your mind “relax my body.”

As you breathe in, not only say to yourself “open my mind,” but become open to the world around you. Like a flower opening to the sun, open your heart to reality as it is, right now.

As you breathe out, not only say to yourself “relax my body,” but let the muscles in your body relax. Just let your body go limp, like the air being let out of a balloon.

You can shorten it to just “open” and “relax” if you wish.

If you are sitting, make sure the palms of your hands are turned up. This is giving your body the clue to open up, be receptive, and relax.

Be completely present in the here and now. That’s it.

You can also use this as a centering practice before doing regular meditation. Relaxation is the doorway to mindfulness.

Something to Live For

Finding your life’s purpose is part discovery and part creation. You are here to make the world a better place than you found it. How you do that is harder to discern.

I wish I could give you a foolproof recipe for finding your purpose in life, but I can’t. Nobody can. It is unique to you. But I might be able to offer you a few tips.

The discovery part is to find out what you are good at, what you are passionate about, and how these fit into what the world needs. If you can get paid for it, all the better.

Now the hard part. Disregard all those things and do what you fear. If it is uncomfortable, good. You have to get outside your comfort zone in order to grow personally, spiritually, and professionally. Recreate yourself into the you that your envision you would be if all the world would just cooperate.

Now combine your self-creation and your self-discovery. Then follow the path that gives you inner peace. Go where that peace blossoms. The right path will not be easy, but you will have peace of mind in the midst of the storms

Reading My Bodhidaoist Book

I had to put an end to that.

My book Spirituality Without God, which was out of print, was selling for $104. I contacted the publisher and it is back on Amazon for $12.98.

For those who didn’t know, my book Spirituality Without God is included, with updates, in my book Secular Spirituality. This is a collection of my past works since 2011.

My thinking has evolved since writing Spirituality Without God in 2018. I consider Bodhidaoism a type of religious humanism, therefore Humanism is still one of the Four Traditions. But I trace Humanism’s roots back to Confucianism, Epicureanism, and non-theistic Existentialism.

I am no longer a physicalist. My position I call open naturalism. The natural world exists, but how the mind relates to that is an open question that science and philosophy are still struggling with. Agnosticism is not an easy position, but in this case, I think it is the right one today.

If you read the Bodhidaoist Manifesto and compare it to the original Summa Sophia, you will see a lot missing. I am not sure we really know how many virtues there are, or how many faculties we have, or any number of nice neat lists. I have drunk deeply of the wine of agnosticism.

I figure there are a lot of things best left unsaid. What I am not fairly certain about has been removed. You will notice my tone is much more humble. I think we think we know more than we actually know.

So read my book with the understanding that it is not perfect, but that Bodhidaoism is a work in progress. I hope to publish a new book about Bodhidaoism in 2021, fate willing.

Bodhidaoism and Reality

The hardest problem to answer for any religion is what exists and how do we know. Traditionally these are known as metaphysics and epistemology. Here is my answer to the metaphysical question:

We accept the scientific consensus on the origin of the universe and the evolution of humans through natural selection. We believe that there is one reality, but to human beings, this reality appears in two forms – subjective and objective.

I would call my position open naturalism. I believe that the natural world exists and that science is the best means of knowing it. But I believe that the mind is an important part of reality. How that fits with the natural world is an open question.

One option is panpsychism, which I prefer. As Philip Goff explains, “Panpsychist’s believe that consciousness is a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of the physical world.” There are many theories on how this is so.

Another option is that the mind is an emergent phenomenon. C. D. Broad explains that “the characteristic properties of the whole…. cannot, even in theory, be deduced from the most complete knowledge of the properties of” the parts. In other words, in the words of Douglas Hofstadter, “the soul is more than the sum of its parts.”

The Four Wisdom Traditions of Bodhidaoism

A wisdom tradition, whether religious or philosophical, is a belief system and way of life that passed down from generation to generation that has lasting value. It contains the wisdom of its forebearers.

The first wisdom tradition, and the most influential, is Buddhism, which began in the 5th century BCE. Buddhism is the nontheistic religion that was started by Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha. Today psychology is confirming many of his insights into the human mind.

The second wisdom tradition is Daoism, which began around the 4th century BCE. Daoism, also spelled Taoism, was founded by a movement of those returning to nature. Laozi is the legendary founder. Today Ecopsychology is confirming the human need to be connected to nature.

The third wisdom tradition is Stoicism, which began in the 3rd century. Stoicism is a philosophy that was created by a man named Zeno of Citium. Today Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which was inspired by Stoicism, is confirming many of the Stoics insights.

The fourth wisdom tradition is Humanism, which had its roots in Confucianism, Epicureanism, Charvaka, and Existentialism. Its modern incarnation began in the early 20th Century with John H. Dietrich, Charles Francis Potter, Raymond B. Bragg, and Roy Wood Sellars.

Bodhidaoism is a Humanism

Bodhidaoism, the way of awakening, is the name of the personal religion (or philosophy of life) that I invented in early 2017. It is a worldview and way of life that doesn’t require a belief in God, the supernatural, or an afterlife. It is guided by science and inspired by Buddhism, Daoism, Stoicism, and Humanism. It is a personal religion that is without clergy, church, or Bible.

I agree with the original group of Humanists, “Today man’s larger understanding of the universe, his scientific achievements, and deeper appreciation of brotherhood, have created a situation which requires a new statement of the means and purposes of religion. Such a vital, fearless, and frank religion…. is a major necessity of the present” (Humanist Manifesto I).

Since Bodhidaoism is a type of religious humanism, humanism is one of the four wisdom traditions. Bodhidaoism, just like Humanism, “is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity” (Humanist Manifesto III).

Bodhidaoism “is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality” (IHEU Minimum Statement on Humanism).

What is Bodhidaoism?

I thought it might be a good idea to define what Bodhidaoism is. It is a worldview and way of life that I created in 2017. But here is a more in-depth definition.

Bodhidaoism is a natural religion or philosophy of life that doesn’t include a belief in God, the supernatural, or an afterlife. It is an evidence-based worldview that is guided by the relevant findings from the natural and social sciences. It is a new humanistic religion that is inspired by insights drawn from Buddhism, Daoism, Stoicism, and Humanism. It is a personal religion since it is without clergy, church, or Bible.

It might also interest you to learn that I created the word Bodhidaoism by combining three words. Bodhi is from the Pali language of Buddhism and means awakening. Dao is from the Chinese and means ‘way.” And ism is a suffix, derived from the Greek, and means “doctrine : theory : religion” (Merriam-Webster.com).

I Was Wrong

I was wrong about Christianity. I was wrong about Gnosticism. I was wrong about Buddhism. But each time I was less wrong.

True rational consistency does not consist in stereotyping our beliefs and views, and in refusing to make any improvements lest we be guilty of change.

True rational consistency means holding our minds open to receive the rays of truth from every source, and in changing our beliefs as often and as fast as we obtain further information. This way of life alone accords with the claim of being rational.

No one should be afraid to change their beliefs in conformity with increasing knowledge. Such a fear would keep the world, at best, at a perpetual standstill on all subjects of inquiry, including science. Such a fear would mean all improvement would be prevented. The quest for truth would be aborted.

What is Philosophy?

Philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom, and a philosopher is one in pursuit of wisdom. This is why I call myself a philosopher.

The word philosophy comes from the Greek word philosophia,. The first part philo is the Greek word for friendship “love.” The second part is from the Greek word sophia, which is the word for “wisdom.” So philosophy is literally the “love of wisdom.”

Today philosophy means something else. It has become an academic discipline concerned with clear and rational thinking about a subject. It is far from the original conception, what Pierre Hadot calls “Philosophy as a way of life.”

I think that Epicurus said it best, “Empty is the word of a philosopher which does not heal any suffering of humanity.”

Conspiracy Theory Fallacy

The Conspiracy Theory Fallacy is a group of fallacies. That is why those who believe in a conspiracy theory cannot be convinced by the evidence. The theory is unfalsifiable.

The first fallacy is confirmation bias. This is the tendency to only notice information that confirms one’s prior beliefs. Things that don’t fit the theory are ignored or denied.

The second fallacy is called the furtive fallacy. This is when outcomes are asserted to have been caused by hidden misconduct by decision-makers. It does not merely consider the possibility of hidden actions but insists on them. It can lead to general paranoia.

The third fallacy is called the canceling hypotheses fallacy. This is when one defends one belief by proposing a second belief to explain the lack of evidence in support of the first belief. There is sometimes related to furtive fallacy.

People want life to make sense, and so they will grab unto a conspiracy theory to make sense of things. This is extremely dangerous, because it removes one from reality. We should aim to live an evidence-based life. It is the only sure path to truth.

So What is Wisdom?

If you search for a definition of wisdom, you will find little agreement. It is a hard word to define. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.” Not very helpful.

I have searched for a better definition but found none that I liked. So I have come up with my own.

Wisdom is the right use of knowledge for attaining insight into the true nature of reality so that one can live the good life.

“The right use of knowledge” is from the Zoroastrian religion. “Insight into the true nature of reality” is from Buddhism. And living “the good life” is from the Greek philosophical tradition.

Almost a Buddhist

The Buddha was amazing in getting a lot of things right over 2,500 years ago. He believed in the Big Bang, evolution, and the power of mindfulness for mental health. His was a religion that did not require a belief in God.

But being right about 95 things does not guarantee that one is right about the over five things. The Buddha was amazing but not infallible. There just is no evidence for the heavens and hells of Buddhism. And the evidence for rebirth is inconclusive.

That is why I am almost a Buddhist. I just can’t accept the six realms, rebirth, and the existence of gods without evidence. And yes, I could call myself a secular Buddhist, but I find that hollow. I understand why some people do, but it just doesn’t feel right. Even Stephen Batchelor avoids the term.

So where to go from here. First, I stopped writing the Buddhist column for Patheos. Second, I have returned to Bodhidaoist as my self-designation. Third, I have decided to start blogging again under my name. I hope you enjoy as I am in pursuit of wisdom in a world without God, the supernatural, and an afterlife.