Thursday, July 31, 2014

The purpose of prayer

As an atheist I always saw prayer as silly, it was just asking an imaginary friend for things that you wanted. Yet I still think its normal to be reciting mental mantras to remind myself of that which was important. Now I get to see both under the same light. Prayer must have evolved from this need of mental repetition, if the intention is strong enough, and the request sensible or vague enough, you might manage to grant it to yourself, so voilà prayer works.

In Buddhism prayer has a purpose, it is a task to be done, it serves to weaken the false ego. That part of you that only wants to do that which it finds fun to do at that particular time. That part that finds a hundred different excuses to procrastinate what is important until it cannot be delayed any further. That part that files for tax deferrals instead of taking the time to file the taxes. That is, something that must be done just because it must be done or there will be consequences. Just the normal things that life asks of us.

Have you ever gone to a party that you did not want to go to, just because a close friend or significant other prodded you to do it, and then you actually had fun at the party? Buddhist prayer in a way is like that. But it should only be done if it serves that purpose, not if it is simply rote repetition, if it is just for display, or if it is asking something to some imaginary being.

The main purpose of prayer is to set intention, to set purpose, to set our minds in a path that is receptive to what we would like to learn or achieve. Just as genuflecting towards a teacher is a sign of respect towards what is going to be taught; prayer is in part a commitment to respect the wisdom that has been evolving through millennia, from master to apprentice and new master. Buddhism itself.

I am personally more partial to mantras, it suits me better, it keeps internal what I deem should be internal. A conversation with myself with the purpose of being listened by myself. For tasks that need to be done, just because these need to be done, I have grass to cut and taxes to file; real life has plenty of those. Before meditation, or just in my normal day, I can set intention via the methodical repetition of personal mantras. Mantras that I feel I need and may simply make up on the spot. Who knows, perhaps at some point I will appreciate prayer more, but now I just see it as an external sign devoid of meaning—too close to the christian façade. And if it is devoid of meaning, for me, then it is simply not worth doing. Your mileage will vary.

But, when it comes to children, I believe that the custom of prayer should be preserved. Not in the sense of talking to an imaginary friend, but in the sense of talking to yourself to set your own goals, dreams, and intentions. To set morals, ethics, and interests. To make promises to the self, to family, to society, and learn to follow through or learn why the aim was set too high by the self. To do what needs to be done regardless of wanting to do it or not. To learn to enjoy life regardless of its ups and downs. Praying aloud allows us, as parents, to monitor our child's emotional development and guide them the best we can. But beware of rote repetition, that is not prayer, that is just words devoid of meaning.

Allow your children to make prayer personal, require them to make them personal, remind them of what should be important. After all, as a parent, you are responsible for the next generation of humanity. But never forget that their prayers are your children's alone, these are not for you or for anyone else. If they break a promise it is a promise they made to themselves, they should have their reasons, you are allowed to be curious. But it is really none of your business if they don't want to allow you to know. By then, you will know that your job as prayer-officer is done, and unvoiced mantras can take their place.

Thinking of all the time I wasted as a kid praying for protection to an imaginary being, I came to see that perhaps that allowed me to not be scared of the darkness of night, perhaps that gave me more courage than I would have had otherwise. It is hard to fathom what trusting an external force, bigger than yourself, can do for your personality. It is nearly impossible for me to see how that changed my form of thinking, I did become an atheist as soon as I became a teenager after all.

Prayer might have had something to do with me becoming an atheist. It also explains why to this day, after many years of being an atheist, I still find comfort in the sign of the cross. Childhood emotions are very hard to let go, particularly when these are embedded into motor memories. Perhaps we don't have to let them go, there is no need to throw away the baby with the bathwater, we can make use of those motor memories after all. The feelings these motor memories will evoke in the adult that your child will become. Live long and prosper.

Leonard Nimoy by Gage Skidmore. © licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Birthdays and wisdom

As I reach another revolution around the sun, it becomes even clearer that age has little to do with wisdom. Similar to how the number of pirates has to do with global warming, age is correlated but it is not the cause of wisdom. Wisdom is about learning from life experiences, wisdom is understanding, it is managing to put life experience into a context in which it makes sense. Wisdom is acquired by making mistakes, by trial and error. It is quite hard to achieve wisdom via someone else's eyes. We call it learning, and it cannot be done for you.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The seal of reality

Mahamudra, the great seal of reality. Reality as the measure of all things, or, as we know it in the west thanks to John Locke's 1688 Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, empiricism. Which was an improvement on Aristotle's idea of a Tabula Rasa for the human mind—furthered by Al Farabi during the Islamic renaissance while the west was in the middle of its dark ages. Empiricism is the main pillar of science, what makes science advance to the levels that we see today, what sets the limits to confirmation bias: hypotheses testing and experimentation.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What is meditation

Meditation, seldom is a word more misunderstood. From a written discourse expressing carefully considered thoughts on a subject, as the writings that mark the purported origin of the scientific method by René Descartes, to a transcendental connection to the divine, whatever that is. But in reality, as it is used by Tibetan Buddhists around the world, it is just thinking carefully and methodically. A mental exercise.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Atheist, Ignostic, and Buddhist

This 4th of July I reached the realization that I am a Buddhist, a secular Buddhist, a philosophical Buddhist of the Tibetan tradition, which in reality is simply a Buddhist. Someone that understands some of the historical conditions that surround Buddhism and uses them to help filter out the core of the doctrine. I am an Atheist, that has come around to admire the purpose that gods have given humanity and can see that Buddhism evolved without a need for them [1]. I strongly believe that without gods we would not have become Homo sapiens sapiens, and I am in admiration of the stability religions have given to humanity. That does not mean that I believe in a God by any modern definition (if these definitions even exist), or that I choose to ignore the many wrongs that religions have done and keep doing, but I believe in their historical importance and appreciate their mere existence.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Venezuela, right?

You might have noticed that I lost interest in blogging about Venezuela. The same way as I started, I stopped seeing the purpose, as many excellent blogs were out there. Francisco, Miguel, and Daniel had it more than covered. My voice was just one more in the choir, one more that added little. But that was not the reason I stopped.

I stopped because it was affecting my health. I could not bear to see the state the country was going in without being able to do anything about it. Now, nearly ten years later, a new life a new perspective, and not having put foot in Venezuela since before this blog was started I finally realized why I had to stop. I simply could not bear to continue watching the news and paying attention to them. Venezuela became a sad joke, it just made me sick to even think about it.

Now, little has changed, Chavez died but Venezuela is a bigger mess than ever, money quickly being depleted and life becoming ever more difficult in that pseudo-communist utopia. No news coverage at all as the world is such a big mess that even the immense stupidity that is Venezuelan government and its massive suppression of dissent does not enter the international news sphere. Few friends remaining while most are making a living around the world, where their children can stay far away from the government indoctrination.

This post is the closing of that era. I have stayed away because I only saw a blog about Venezuela, so what else could this be about? Now I see other possibilities, I see new directions, I see new endeavors. Today I decided to repurpose this blog to be about more than just my nearly forgotten home country, and more about my life in my new adopted country, of which I have been a resident for as long as this blog was left abandoned to bit rot.

I cannot forget my origins, but this will not be a blog about Venezuela anymore. Other interests will come in, my newly adopted yet long-held Buddhist philosophy, the politics of my adopted country, the developments of my scientific and entrepreneurial interests. My return to finally finishing that long-abandoned Ph.D. In short, this crazy thing that I affectionately call my life.

Remodeling will be slow, the sidelines slowly repurposed, all of the bit-crud swept away with my attachments, I don't consider myself a blogger, just a guy that happens to have a blog that he could not simply delete from the internet. Who knows, perhaps I even decide to paint, it worked for Bush after all.

Unfortunately the comment section of the old blog posts fell into the abyss of bit rot. There were some interesting debates in there. You'll have to take my word for it.