Author: fred

tiger

Power and Primordial Confidence

One important element of basic goodness is power, of a specific type: the innate power of awareness. Before we try to define this power directly, let’s take as an example the above photo of the gaze of a tiger. Why is a tiger’s gaze so powerful? If you’re like me, the easiest answers—”because it could kill you,” “because we’ve evolved to fear large predators,” “because tigers just look cool”—don’t actually hold up. I don’t find the tiger above to be frightful, or merely cool. I find it to be majestic. For me, a synonym for this majesty would be “innate power.” The tiger radiates a presence that, in and of itself, I can’t help but feel is powerful. What is the source of this power? The power of awareness For me, the tiger is radiating a powerful awareness, especially through its eyes: This creature is powerfully alive, and it is looking back at the camera with a force of awareness that is not hostile or aggressive, but is utterly without doubt. For me, much more than its muscles and claws, the tiger feels powerful because …

as you wish | basic goodness

Service: “As You Wish”

The video below summarizes a thread in the classic movie The Princess Bride: the phrase “As you wish” as code for “I love you.” Watch the video to orient yourself, but if you haven’t seen The Princess Bride, your time is probably better spent doing that front-to-back. This article will be here when you’re done. On Service Part of the basic goodness of human nature is our ability, and our yearning, to place ourselves into service. To me, the end of The Princess Bride is one of the most touching moments in film. When I try to pin down precisely why, what emerges is a discussion of service. Part of the basic goodness of human nature is our ability, and our yearning, to place ourselves into service. Service in this case isn’t a chore, but is a delighful act of putting love into practice. In fact, humans love and even need service. As anyone in a well-paid but meaningless job—that is, a job that is not serving the good of the world—will tell you, the …

James Bond

On Spirituality and Cool

Spirituality often feels forced, fake, claustrophobic, corny. I think virtually any young person who’s interested in spirituality is, to some extent, embarrassed by that interest. Spirituality often feels forced, fake, claustrophobic, corny: slightly embarrassing to practice, and even to discuss. I used to live at a Buddhist retreat center, and when I’d talk to my closest friend on the outside (an ex-girlfriend), I felt myself withering under her pity that I was investing so much in my spiritual life. I felt the same pity myself when I learned that a Harvard valedictorian intended to join a nunnery. My ex’s feeling and mine, put most bluntly, would be: “But that’s for losers.” Spirituality also often carries an earnestness, an aw-shucks character, that can make one cringe. From the just-linked article, for example: “The Holy Spirit is working overtime these days!” Similarly, at my old retreat center, I recently saw a Facebook update of several people my age building a snowman. It was a bit of painfully earnest fun for people who might otherwise have been going out …

Buddhas on table |Spiritual apologetics

Beyond Spiritual Apologetics

I recently began to present my view that spirituality is often threatened by truth. This article examines one of the most common symptoms of that sense of threat: spiritual apologetics. In this article, I’ll define spiritual apologetics, and examine what I believe to be the inherent failings of an apologist’s approach to truth—as well as how these failings commonly play out in individual apologetic projects. I’ll also look at the origins of the apologetic impulse, and how to go beyond it by understanding the true nature and purpose of spirituality. Understanding Spiritual Apologetics “Apologetics” is the formal attempt to provide a rational basis for existing ideas, and especially for spiritual or religious beliefs. In the present day, “apologetics” usually entails working to reconcile spiritual beliefs with knowledge gained from other fields of study, especially the sciences. This article is specifically about these present-day apologetic attempts: Spiritual apologetics is the effort to reconcile spiritual claims with non-spiritual bodies of knowledge. A few examples of recent apologetic projects include: “Proof of Heaven,” as advanced by an American …

Buddha statue sky

Human Flourishing, Art, and the Nature of Spirituality

In the previous article, I described my view that modern spirituality often fears the truth, because people’s use of spirituality is “overstretched”: people put forward spiritually-based answers to too many types of questions, damaging the credibility of spirituality as an answer to anything. I also argued that the remedy is to define the spiritual “field of study”: the set of questions which belong to spirituality itself, and the knowledge and wisdom to be discovered in exploring those questions. So the key question is: What truth can and should spirituality reveal? This article starts to outline what I believe is the answer to that question. The Core Question of Spirituality I believe that the purpose of spirituality is to answer the question: What is it, and what can it be, to live as a human being? Written out more fully, I believe the core question of spirituality is: What beauty, truth, worthiness, and power are inherent in being alive as a human being, and how can humans more and more powerfully embody those qualities? Similarity with …

enlightenment eyes boudnath

Enlightenment is Real; The Eyes Have It

Most meditators I talk to don’t believe in enlightenment, for understandable reasons. Most meditators I talk to don’t believe in enlightenment. It seems like a colorful but distant part of Buddhism, not something we could enjoy for ourselves. I understand this view. Enlightenment—the permanent end of suffering—generally sounds too good to be true compared to our own experience. Most of us have never met an enlightened person, and it’s easy to see how prescientific cultures could inflate the achievements of past meditators. Furthermore, perhaps we don’t even have a clear idea what we mean when we say “enlightenment.” Is “enlightenment” even really one thing? Are there different kinds of enlightenment? Is enlightenment just whatever people say it is, or a catch-all term for the “deep” experiences that come up in meditation? Enlightenment is Real! With enlightenment, our love of ambiguity can go too far: enlightenment actually is real. All this postmodern doubt and ambiguity is familiar, even comfortable. But in the case of enlightenment, it also risks going too far—because enlightenment actually is real. Stated …