Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What is Theravada Buddhism? (Part 2)

John Bullitt (; Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven, Crystal Quintero, Wisdom Quarterly
Golden plump Shakyamuni Buddha, Wat Muang, Thailand (Krunja Photography/
The Noble Eightfold Path offers a comprehensive practical guide to the development of those wholesome qualities and skills in the heart/mind that must be cultivated in order to bring practitioners to the final goal, the supreme freedom and joy of nirvana.
The eight qualities to be developed are: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

In practice, the Buddha taught the Noble Eightfold Path to skeptics and admirers according to a "gradual" system of training, beginning with the development of sila (virtue: right speech, right action, and right livelihood, which are summarized in practical form by the Five Precepts).
  1. I undertake to abstain from taking life.
  2. I undertake to abstain from taking what is not given.
  3. I undertake to abstain from taking sexual liberties.
  4. I undertake to abstain from taking the truth lightly.
  5. I undertake to abstain from taking intoxicants that occasion carelessness [the breaking of these profitable undertakings due to intoxicated negligence].
This is followed by the development of samadhi (collectedness, concentration, or mental-cultivation: right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration), culminating in the development of panna (wisdom, knowledge, insight: right view, right intention).

The practice of generosity (dana) serves as a support at every step along the path to enlightenment, as it helps foster the development of a compassionate mind/heart and counters the heart's habitual tendencies towards craving.

Progress along the path does not follow a simple or linear trajectory. Rather, development of each aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path encourages the refinement and strengthening of the others, leading the practitioner ever forward in an upward spiral of spiritual maturity that culminates in enlightenment.

Seen from another point of view, the long journey on the path to nirvana begins in earnest with the first tentative stirrings of right view, the first flickerings of wisdom by which one recognizes both the validity of the first Noble Truth and the inevitability and hope of the law of karma, the universal law of actions and results.

Once one begins to see that harmful actions (karma) inevitably bring about painful results, and wholesome actions ultimately bring about pleasant results, the desire naturally grows to live a skillful, morally upright life, to take seriously the practice of virtue.

The confidence built from this preliminary understanding inclines a practitioner/follower to put one's trust more deeply in the Dharma, the path-of-practice. The follower becomes a "Buddhist" upon expressing an inner resolve to "go for guidance" to the Triple Gem:
  1. the Buddha (both the historical Teacher and one's own innate potential for enlightenment),
  2. the Dharma (both the teachings of the historical Buddha and the ultimate Truth towards which they point), and
  3. the Sangha (both the monastic community that has protected the teachings and put them into practice since the Buddha's day, and the true Sangha, the "noble ones," all lay-practitioners and monastics who have achieved at least the first stage of enlightenment called stream entry).
With one's feet firmly planted on the ground by going for guidance to enlightened/accomplished beings, and with the help of a noble friend (kalyana-mitta) to help show the way, one can set out on the Path, confident that one is indeed following in the footsteps left by the Buddha himself.

Remember what the Buddha taught in the Kalama Sutra: Think for yourself.
Buddhism is sometimes criticized as a "pessimistic" or "negative" philosophy. After all (the argument goes), life is not all disappointment and misery, woe and suffering: It offers many kinds of joy and happiness, bliss and rapture. Why then this pessimistic Buddhist obsession with "unsatisfactoriness" and suffering (dukkha)?

The reason the Buddha bases the Teachings on a frank assessment of our plight as humans and devas is that there is disappointment and unsatisfactoriness, woe and suffering in life. No one can argue this; it's a fact. If the Buddha's teachings were to stop there, the Dharma might indeed regard Buddhism as pessimistic and life as utterly hopeless.

But like a doctor prescribing a remedy for an illness (dukkha), the Buddha offers hope (the third Noble Truth) and a cure (the fourth Noble Truth)! [Why did he place the problem at the beginning? That's where a skillful doctor usually begins: the problem, the cause, the solution, the things to do.]

It is important to keep in mind that the Buddha never denies that life -- even an "unenlightened" life -- holds the potential and possibility of many great kinds of happiness. He also recognized that the kinds of happiness to which most of us are accustomed cannot, by their very nature, give us lasting satisfaction.

If we are genuinely interested in our own and others' welfare, we must sometimes be willing to give up one kind of happiness for the sake of gaining something much better.

The Buddha (VIctoria & Albert Museum)
This understanding lies at the heart of the Buddha's method. Whether instructing a layperson on the blessings of treating one's parents and relatives with respect, or instructing a celibate monk or nun on the finer points of meditation, the Buddha's gradual system of training consistently encourages the disciple to move on to a deeper level of happiness, one that is greater, nobler, and more fulfilling than previously known.

Each level of happiness has its rewards, but each also has its drawbacks -- the most conspicuous of which is that it cannot, by its very nature, endure.

The highest happiness of all, the one to which all of the Buddha's Teachings ultimately point, is the lasting happiness and peace of the transcendent, the Deathless, the Unconditioned, nirvana.

So the Buddha's Teachings are concerned solely with guiding people toward the highest and most expansive happiness possible. There is nothing pessimistic about that. In the words of one teacher, "Buddhism is the serious pursuit of happiness."

The Buddha claimed that the awakening he rediscovered is accessible to anyone willing to put forth the effort and commitment required to pursue the Noble Eightfold Path to its ultimate aim. It is up to each of us individually to put that claim to the test.
Theravada comes West
Burma, now Myanmar, is perhaps the most Theravada country (Alex Eidlin/flickr).
Until the late 19th century, the teachings of Theravada Buddhism were little known outside of South and Southeast Asia, where they had flourished for two and a half millennia. In the last century, however, the West has begun to take notice of Theravada's unique spiritual legacy and teachings of enlightenment.

In recent decades, this interest has swelled; the monastic Sangha from various Theravada cultures has established dozens of monasteries across Europe and North America. In addition, a growing number of Western lay meditation centers, operating independently of the Sangha, currently strain to meet the demands of lay people -- Buddhist and otherwise -- seeking to learn selected aspects of the Buddha's Teachings, the "Doctrine of the Elders."

The turn of the 21st century presents opportunities and dangers for Theravada in the West: Will the Buddha's classical Teachings, which are called the Buddha-Dharma, be patiently studied and practiced so that they establish deep roots in Western soil, for the benefit of many generations to come?

Will the current popular climate of "openness" and cross-fertilization between the many different schools of Buddhism lead to the emergence of a strong new form of Buddhism unique to the West, or will it simply lead to the dilution and confusion of all of these priceless teachings? These are open questions, and only time will tell.

Pali language canonical and exogenous texts
For those seriously interested in the study and practice of the Dharma, it is important to remember that the most reliable source of authentic Theravada teachings continues to be -- as it has been for the past two and a half millennia -- the Pali canon and the monastic community, more those who practice than teach [and there are two distinct types of monastics, those who focus on study and those who focus on meditation practice, those interested in preserving the Teachings and those verifying them for themselves as the Buddha advised].
Invitation to explore
The Buddha was enlightened. We can be, too, but it depends on our own practicing.

A link exists to Web pages (Access to Insight) along with an invitation to explore the historical Buddha's Teachings from the Theravada perspective. Where can one begin? See the article "Befriending the Sutras: Some Suggestions for Reading the Pali Discourses."

Keep in mind that these Teachings are not meant to be studied, analyzed, critiqued, and wondered about. They are meant to be investigated and put into PRACTICE, put to the test in our heart.

They challenge us to awaken within ourselves the same liberating truths the Buddha rediscovered long ago on a full-moon night in the month of May, in a forest grove near Gaya, India.

Angry Indian Goddesses, saving India's forest, going to Cuba, undercover in Saudi Arabia...

PRI's The World; Crystal Quintero, CC Liu, Seth Auberon, Wisdom Quarterly; PBS (Frontline)
Bollywood in Hollywood: Los Angeles hosts the 2016 Indian Film Festival April 6-10.

"Angry Indian Goddesses" official trailer, a Pan Nalin film at Indian Film Festival, Los Angeles
These Indian women protect forests better than men. The village men agree.
Even the monsoon rains don’t keep the women of Ghunduribadi, a tiny tribal village in India’s eastern state of Odisha (Orissa), from patrolling the nearby forest at dawn.

Clad in colorful saris and armed with sticks and machetes, they file in the rain through rice fields and onto a muddy path that leads into 500 acres of wooded hills in the Nayagarh district. They’re looking for intruders that come to cut down their trees without permission.

Women's patrol nabbed three illegal loggers from nearby village and brought them to the local council. If not for the presence of reporter, they would've beaten the men (Sam Eaton).

Not long ago these women would have been considered trespassers here. Nearby, there are heavy stone markers laid down by the British in the 1800s when the government declared this forest its own.

But now, under India’s landmark 2006 Forest Rights Act, tribal villages like Ghunduribadi can claim title to their ancestral lands, some 150,000 square miles of forest all across India. That’s an area almost the size of California, making it one of the largest land reforms in India’s history. More

Secret activists use cameras to show repression by Saudi authorities

Environmentalists fear Americans will ruin Cuba's biodiversity

Fighting North Korea's dictatorship through flash drives
This Latina (Guatemalan) rapper thinks hip-hop can unite all women
Brutal Bronze Age battle discovery changes understanding of history

Is pressure to set records turning polar adventure into a lying game?

"Tex-Mex Gringa" musician is proud to carry on the family name
It's NOT a den of terrorists. Here's a different picture of Molenbeek

Did Putin save the day for Assad/Syria or create a bigger challenge?

Scientists hail latest quantum computer as "holy grail" of computing

Why Buddhist-Cambodia's sex workers may not need to be saved

Syrian gov't recaptures the ancient city of Palmyra from CIA/ISIS

China says: Stop giving things embarrassing Western names!

Unicorn fossil; kidnapping Asian brides (video)

Dhr. Seven and Amber Larson, Wisdom Quarterly; VICE; Tyler MacDonald (
Remember the coelacanth*? What does "science" know generalizing from so few samples?

Unicorns were real, royal Central Asian pony (Domenico Zampieri, c. 1602, Palazo Farnese)

The Middle Country and Shakya Land (VICE)
The Buddha was born in Central Asia ( in Shakya Land, known as Scythia to the ancient Greeks, which includes what are today called the "Stans." Kapilavastu and the two other seasonal capitals were likely in what is now Afghanistan. But the Shakyas must have wandered and from time to time held a territory reaching as far and wide as the rugged landscape would allow. In that land with rival neighbors vying for territory, as the Silk Route brought travelers and riches, there had once lived the mythical "unicorn." But this was a giant creature in what by the Buddha's time was an equestrian culture. Another of the Stans was made famous by "Borat" (Sacha Baron Cohen), a rugged land swallowed up into the USSR and only now emerging as a once great kingdom separating Europe and Asia. The Buddha warned what can be expected to happen to a society that abducts women, which he would not have done were it not a practice.
  • Who were the Scythians (the Saka, the Shakyans)? The Buddha was a Scythian/Saka/Shakya, known as the "Sage of the Shakya Clan" (Shakyamuni). The Saka (Old Persian Sakā, Sanskrit Śaka, Greek Σάκαι, Latin Sacae) was the term used in Persian and Sanskrit sources for the Scythians, a large group of Eastern Iranian (Aryan) nomadic tribes on the Eurasian Steppe.
A Culture of Kidnapping
Host Thomas Morton (VICE) investigates. In rural Kyrgyzstan men still marry their women the old-fashioned way --  by abducting them off the street and forcing them to be their wives. Bride-napping is supposedly an ancient custom that has made a major comeback since the fall of communism, when Kyrgyzstan was part of the Russian Empire (USSR). It now accounts for nearly half of all marriages in some parts. VICE traveled to the Kyrgyz countryside to follow and aid and abet a young groom named Kubanti as he surprised his teenage girlfriend Nazgul with the gift of marriage by kidnapping.

*The Coelacanth
Photo: Ballista, via Wikimedia Commons. Distributed under a CC-BY-SA-3.0 license.(Wired) This creature was thought to be extinct until a live one was caught in 1938 and another was found in a market in 1997. Coelacanths were known only from fossils until a live Latimeria chalumnae was discovered off the coast of South Africa in 1938. Until then, they were presumed to have gone extinct more than 65 million years ago, in the late Cretaceous period. A second living species of coelacanth, Latimeria menadoensis, was discovered in an Indonesian market in 1997, and a live specimen was caught one year later. More

"Siberian unicorn" survived longer than thought 
Tyler MacDonald (, March 28, 2016)
Siberian Unicorn
"Siberian unicorn" likely went extinct around 29,000 years ago, surviving 321,000 years longer than previously thought, a new scientific study by Tomsk Univ. determined (Getty).
The "Siberian unicorn" likely went extinct only around 29,000 years ago, conflicting with previous research that suggested its extinction around 350,000 years ago.
Although the "Siberian unicorn," also known as the Elasmotherium sibiricum, was thought to have died out around 350,000 years ago, a new study by researchers from Tomsk State University (TSU) reveals that this "unicorn" instead went extinct 29,000 years ago in Kazakhstan.

Mammoth rhinos (
"Most likely, the south of Western Siberia was a refúgium, where this rhino persevered the longest in comparison with the rest of its range," said Andrey Shpanski, a paleontologist at TSU and first author on the study. "There is another possibility that it could migrate and dwell for a while in the more southern areas."

Hybrid-unicorn have been brought back.
The team came to their conclusions after examining a rhinoceros skull that was found near Kazakhstan's Kozhamzhar Village. Using radiocarbon AMS-method analysis, the team determined that the animal died around 29,000 years ago. More

"American Denial" (PBS video)

CC Liu, Sheldon S., Crystal Quintero, Wisdom Quarterly;; (SCPR)
This A.I. robot will judge your selfies to tell you if you suck or not (Popular Science)
(Indpendent Lens/PBS) "American Denial: An American Dilemma" on our implicit bias 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What is "Theravada" Buddhism? (Part 1)

John Bullitt (; Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven, Crystal Quintero, Wisdom Quarterly

Buddhismo Hispano (
Theravada (Pali language: thera "elders" + vada "word, doctrine") means the "Doctrine of the Elders." [The "elders" are the first disciples -- enlightened monks and nuns -- of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama.] 
  • See Part 2
  • NOTE: "Theravada" in American English is pronounced "terra vodda" becuase the "th" sound in Pali is pronounced like the "th" combination in "hothouse." 
"Theravada" is the name for the school of Buddhism that draws its scriptural inspiration from the Pali canon, or Tipitaka ["Three Baskets" containing the sutras, monastic discipline, and Higher Teaching], which scholars generally accept as the oldest record of the Buddha's Teachings or Dharma.

For many centuries, Theravada has been the predominant religion of Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia; today Theravada Buddhists number over 100 million worldwide. In recent decades Theravada has begun to take root in the West -- primarily in Europe, Australia, and the United States.
The many names of Theravada
The Buddha addresses the Five Ascetics and sets rolling the Wheel of the Dharma.
Theravada Buddhism goes by many names. The Buddha himself called the spiritual movement he founded Dhamma-Vinaya, "the Doctrine and Discipline," in reference to the two fundamental aspects of the system of ethical and spiritual training he taught.

Owing to its historical dominance in southern Asia (India/Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos), Theravada is also identified as "Southern Buddhism." By contrast "Northern Buddhism" migrated north from India/Afghanistan into Tibet, China, Japan, Korean, Mongolia, Siberia, Russia (the USSR's Central Asian "stans" and North Asia).
Theravada is sometimes misidentified as "Hinayana" (the "Lesser Vehicle"), in contradistinction to the self-proclaimed "Mahayana" (the "Great Vehicle"), which is usually a synonym for Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, Ch'an, and other expressions of Chinese Buddhism.

But the use of "Hinayana" as a pejorative insult has its origins in earlier schisms within the monastic community that ultimately led to the emergence of what would later become Hindu-influenced Mahayana.

Today, however, scholars of every Buddhist (and non-Buddhist) persuasion often use the term "Hinayana" without pejorative intent [-- and attempt to attach it to Theravada as the only remaining early school. The actual Hinayana schools all, such as the Sarvastivada, all went extinct.]
Pali (not Sanskrit): the language of Theravada
Students help revive ancient Pali language in modern India (
The language of the Theravada canonical texts is Pali, a relative of Magadhi, the language probably spoken in central India during the Buddha's time. Most of the sutras the Buddha delivered were memorized by Ven. Ananda, the Buddha's cousin and close personal attendant.

Shortly after the Buddha's final-nirvana around 480 BCE, the monastic community -- including Ananda -- convened to recite all the sutras they had heard during the Buddha's 45 years of teaching.

Each recorded discourse therefore begins with the indicator/disclaimer, Evam me sutam -- "Thus have I heard." The teachings were passed down within the monastic community following a well-established oral tradition. By about 100 BCE the Tipitaka was first fixed in writing in Sri Lanka by Sinhalese scribe-monks.

Of course, it can never be proven that the Pali canon contains the actual words uttered by the historical Buddha (and there is ample evidence to suggest that much of the canon does not). The wisdom the canon contains has nevertheless served for centuries as an indispensable guide for millions of followers in their quest for enlightenment or awakening from delusion and dream-like suffering.

Many students of Theravada find that learning the Pali language -- mainly just a little bit here and there -- greatly deepens their understanding of the Buddha's path of practice toward the realization of nirvana in this very life.
A brief summary of the Buddha's Teachings

What follows is a brief synopsis of some of the key teachings of Theravada Buddhism, leaving out a great deal, but leaving in enough that even this much will be enough to get one started on the way of investigation and exploration.

Shortly after his great awakening, the Buddha ("the Awakened One") delivered his first discourse, in which he laid out the essential framework upon which all later teachings were based. It consists of the Four Noble Truths, four fundamental principles of nature (Dharma) that emerged from the Buddha's penetrating assessment of the human (and deva) condition that serve to define the entire scope of Buddhist practice.

These ennobling truths are not fixed dogmatic principles, but living experiences to be explored individually in the heart of the sincere spiritual seeker:
  • 1. The Noble Truth of [the Truth of] dukkha (disappointment, unsatisfactoriness, suffering, distress): life is fundamentally fraught with unsatisfactoriness and disappointment of every description.
  • 2. The Noble Truth of the Cause of dukkha: the cause of our dissatisfaction is craving (tanha) in all its forms.
  • 3. The Noble Truth of the Cessation of dukkha: an end to all that unsatisfactoriness can be found through the relinquishment and abandonment of craving.
  • 4. The Noble Truth of the Path leading to the cessation of dukkha: there is a way of achieving the end of all unsatisfactoriness, namely the Noble Eightfold Path.
To each of these Four Noble Truths the Buddha prescribed a specific task the practitioner can carry out: the first Noble Truth is to be comprehended; the second abandoned; the third realized; the fourth developed.

The full realization of the third Noble Truth paves the way for the direct penetration (personal experience) of nirvana, the transcendent freedom (liberation, deliverance, emancipation, release, moksha) that stands as the final goal of all of the Buddha's varied teachings.

The ultimate Noble Truth -- the Path -- contains a prescription for the relief of all unhappiness and for our directly experienced release, once and for all, from the painful and wearisome cycle of rebirth and death (samsara) to which -- through our own ignorance (avijja) of the Four Noble Truths -- we have been bound for countless aeons. CONTINUED IN PART 2

Monday, March 28, 2016

UPDATE: Host Mike leaving "Loveline" (audio)

Wisdom Quarterly; Mike Catherwood on Kevin and Bean Show (, 3-23-16)

Soon-to-be former "Loveline" co-host Mike Catherwood went on the morning drive to do some 'splaining on March 23rd at about 9:00 am. He gave a long-form answer to why he's leaving.
  • Still on KABC AM
    UPDATE: On Wednesday, March 23, 2016, Mike went on the morning drive "Kevin and Bean Show" (KROQ 106.7 FM), where he began his radio career, to explain just why he's leaving and what it means for "Loveline." Listen to the podcast (below) or on iTunes. It seems contractual obligations will keep him on Dr. Drew's early afternoon KABC 790 AM talk show, Los Angeles. Mike and Drew recently had Insane Clown Posse on the show.
Gathering of the Juggalos: Mike, Violent J, Drew, Shaggy 2 Dope (
Dr. Drew Midday Live with Mike Catherwood
We're AM hosts.

      Microsoft's racist A.I. robot, "Tay"

      Dave Gershgorn (Popular Science, March 24, 2016); Crystal Quintero, CC Liu, Wisdom Quarterly
      A Twitter chat robot gone racist and sexist and hateful? Timeline of A.I. on Telegraph
      Altwork station
      I was programmed to be a shy introverted millennial.
      Here's how we prevent the NEXT racist robot. But is the consequence of poor training.

      It took less than 24 hours and 90,000 tweets for Tay, Microsoft's A.I. chat robot, to start generating racist, genocidal (pro-Hitler) replies on Twitter.
      The she-bot has ceased tweeting, and Microsoft considers Tay a failed experiment.

      In a statement to Popular Science, a Microsoft spokesperson wrote that Tay's responses were caused by "a coordinated effort by some users to abuse Tay’s commenting skills."

      The bot, which had no consciousness, obviously learned those words from some data that she was trained on.

      Tay did reportedly have a "repeat after me" function, but some of the most racy tweets were generated inside Tay's transitive mind (as artificial intelligence simulates thinking).
      Life after Tay
      Tay likes Trump, but in a post-racist world...
      However, Tay is not the last chatbot that will be pushed on the Internet at large. For artificial intelligence (A.I.) to be fully realized, it needs to learn constraint (intentional restraint, willed self-control) and social boundaries much the same way compassionate humans do.

      Mark Riedl, an artificial intelligence researcher at Georgia Tech, thinks that stories hold the answer:

      "When humans write stories, they often exemplify the best about their culture," Riedl told Popular Science. More

      Inside [FBI-funded] Facebook's Artificial Intelligence Lab
      Google's AlphaGo A.I. defeats world champion at the game of Go