When is it Education, when is it Preaching?

I’ve just come back from a 10-day retreat in the Sierra with Sogyal Rinpoche, very deep.

One of the things Rinpoche frequently mentions is how the Buddha summed up all his teaching in just three lines. My memory is not the best, but it’s something like to end our suffering

Do absolutely no harmful or evil actions.

Build up plenty of good karma through virtuous actions.

Tame this mind of ours.

When asked to sum up his teachings even more, the Buddha would just use the third line, “Tame this mind of ours,” as a deluded, out-of-control mind was the most basic cause of our suffering.

In my teaching and writing, I always mention all three, but put about 99% of my teaching into the last one, understanding and controlling our minds. That’s because I have always felt funny about “preaching.” If you tell people to not be nasty and to be good, that’s preaching, and college professors and scientists are not supposed to do that, are they? Only people identified as preachers and moralists are allowed to do that? Who are so good themselves that it would not be at all false for them to exhort others to be good?

Yet I have the nagging feeling that by not emphasizing the need to be good, by emphasizing the “technical,” the psychology of understanding and controlling the mind I’m abetting people in bypassing issues of whether they are indeed living a good life.

I don’t have any particular answers about this, but it’s a nagging question….

10 comments

  1. Dr Tart,

    I have a question about Karma. I was watching a video on the SSE site that discussed research into Pranic Healing being done by Joie P. Jones. Part of the research involved trying to reap the rewards of Karma by making a donation to charity during some of the experimental runs and willing the good karma generated towards healing the cell cultures used in the study. They found that there was no improvement of cell survival rates, but they did find that the overall failure rates of experiments dropped from 12% to 4% when karmic intervention was invoked.

    Is that really how karma is supposed to work? You do something nice on purpose – in this case the purpose was specifically to reap the rewards of good karma – and you get paid back in good karma?

    That seems a little bit wrong to me somehow, but I have to admit that I’m no expert in this stuff. I had the same problems with a recent questionnaire I did for a study of NDErs. I was asked questions about if I empathized with others and wanted to help them. I can’t but help empathize with others, it’s wired into me now. If I’m mean to other people, I feel their pain. That doesn’t make me a better person. I’m being nice because it would hurt me not to.

    1. I am always hesitant to make more than surface comments on Buddhism, as 2500 years of scholars have already worked everything over, but…
      I’m pleased someone is trying to experiment with any aspect of karma, although I don’t know this one that is described.
      And on the other hand, the Buddha left a list of either 5 or 10 things, I don’t recall which, things he said don’t think about too much before you’re fully enlightened because only an enlightened mind can understand them and you’ll just drive yourself nuts thinking about them too much before enlightenment.
      One item on the list was the exact workings of karma….. 😉
      And on the third hand, nothing ventured, nothing gained, assuming something is incomprehensible before you make a try at it certainly raises your probability of failure…..As Henry Ford is reputed to have said, “Those who think they can and those who think they can’t are both right.”

  2. So if there is such a thing as karma, is there also such a thing as grace? You know, like when the universe cuts you some slack even though you did nothing to deserve it.

    1. I certainly hope there is Grace!
      I often get caught up in thoughts of strict accountability, punitive desire to punish bad people, etc., but I also know, at least a little, the value of forgiveness and generosity, human level “grace,” we might call it.
      Now if there is a God, we would assume this God would be considerably superior to us, and so would have an even better understanding of the value of grace.
      I don’t know how to “know” in any final way, but I choose to live my life on the working hypothesis that it’s a good idea to forgive as much as you can, and God would be way better at it than me.
      To assume a purely mechanical karma, where every single act is weighed (by some kind of Cosmic Accounting Staff?) and given plus or minus points and so every single thing must be balanced….way too difficult and depressing for me!

  3. I kind of wonder if the universe’s idea of grace is why people have NDEs. I often think that I did nothing to deserve my NDE. Sometimes I mean that in a bad way when I’m upset about all the challenges that come with being an NDEr, but truthfully I’m grateful for the experience even when I’m frustrated by coming back here.

    Kenneth Ring talks about NDEs as being a kind of “seed experience” in his book Life at Death. Almost as if the universe is touching us with grace to let us have a glimpse of the bigger picture and that feeling of the bigger sort of Love that we would never have found on our own. Maybe I don’t deserve it, I certainly haven’t earned it, but there it is. What happens now is up to me.

    I didn’t get my experience by being kind to others or working on my karma. But for the duration of my NDE, my mind was calm. There was a strange sort of rationality to that experience that didn’t seem odd at all while I was there. Now that I’ve experienced it, I want more.

    Maybe you don’t need to emphasize the first two parts of the Buddha’s teachings. Maybe after you calm your mind the other stuff just become self-evident anyway.

    1. Maybe after you calm your mind the other stuff just become self-evident anyway.

      I think you are right. In the method I practice it is said that if you can think absolutely nothing for 10 minutes, then you don’t need to practice.

  4. Is that really how karma is supposed to work? You do something nice on purpose – in this case the purpose was specifically to reap the rewards of good karma – and you get paid back in good karma?

    I think it’s really too early to say anything about this from a scientific viewpoint. It could just be a manifestation of the good intent of the one donating.

    Science know so little about these things. There have been almost no exploratory studies, only proof oriented ones. One thing though, that seems to emerge as a suggestion this and similar studies, is that there is some kind of pervasive “energy/information/something”-field that pervades all of creation in a non-local way, and can be patterned by our focused intention to influence physical reality. Not a new idea, but these findings elevate it from just an idea to something much more profound. Even with our technologically sophisticated civilization we have not realized some of what may be the deepest insights available to the human mind. A future were contemplative traditions were incorporated into an expanded view of science could become quite interesting. It could make our current progress look pale in comparison 🙂

  5. In the method I practice it is said that if you can think absolutely nothing for 10 minutes, then you don’t need to practice.

    Hi Tor, which method do you practice?
    I recall just one time I had a blank mind for about ten minutes.
    But that’s just the only time I experienced it, and I can’t do it at will.

  6. Sometimes I wonder if our preoccupation with technology is producing NDErs. It’s as if the universe has this really odd feedback loop where as we become more materialistic, less spiritual and more invested in technology, those technological advancements aimed at preserving and extending our time in this existence have the potential to increase the number of people coming back from the brink of death. Even if just a small percentage of people surviving extreme medical emergencies carry a NDE back with them, that still means that there will be more and more NDErs. NDErs seem to be more spiritual and less materialistic after their experiences. It’s like the universe is trying to reverse a trend somehow.

    I wonder if there are any sorts of meditation practices aimed specifically at people who have gone through a NDE. I’m finding meditation helpful but sometimes I feel like it is a bit different for me. It is like I cheated and looked at the end of a book but I don’t know how to read the book from the start. I think most people who meditate have the tools to get through the book, they just haven’t seen the last chapter yet. 🙂

    1. I’m finding meditation helpful but sometimes I feel like it is a bit different for me. It is like I cheated and looked at the end of a book but I don’t know how to read the book from the start. I think most people who meditate have the tools to get through the book, they just haven’t seen the last chapter yet. Smile

      I sure hope so. It’s part of the reason why I practice 🙂

      I guess the trick is to find a good enough method and teacher to guide one to that final chapter. I suspect that in today’s world, that can be a bit difficult. There isn’t exactly a certificate of qualification given to those that have found the secrets of the universe. Or perhaps there kind of is… In my book, having really understood some of these things should provide you with both wisdom and abilities. These abilities can be tested. But I do not think abilities imply you understand everything, just a bit more than the average person.

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