Sunday, September 22, 2013


From the ars technica website by Joe Mullin - Aug 27 2013:
"Yesterday, the ACLU filed a declaration by Princeton Computer Science Prof. Edward Felten to support its quest for a preliminary injunction in that lawsuit. Felten, a former technical director of the Federal Trade Commission, has testified to Congress several times on technology issues, and he explained why "metadata" really is a big deal...Unlike the actual contents of calls and e-mails, the metadata about those calls often can't be hidden. And it can be incredibly revealing—sometimes moreso than the actual content".
Big deal, this NSA data-collection storm. Since it truly is a World-Wide Web, it can be understandable that someone somewhere is potentially looking at your metadata, regardless of where in the world you might be. I don't know about you, but I don't live globally. I know that things I do could have some big-picture impact, but I can't really see it. So I live locally, which can actually include people from Japan and Jersey City, Korea and Kalamazoo, but generally one-to-one; if they're far enough away, probably electronically, and maybe collected by the NSA.

On a personal level, what sort of data collection do we do? We take notes, either based on personal observations or things that we've heard other people say, assuming that it's based on their personal observations. Thereby revealing this data collection as The Great Generalizations, like “All atheists are evil and not only immoral, but a-moral since they have no God.” “Christian fundamentalists are intolerant bigots with a room temperature IQ (which in Celsius is really low).” “Jews are money-hungry.” “Buddhists are wimps.” “Muslims are intolerant and violent.” And many of these data are accepted as fact, since it's “common knowledge", or maybe, "It's in Wikipedia, it must be true.” 

But quite often, there's no real objective evaluation of fact or reality, so the veracity of any of these statements is at best suspect, and very often just plain wrong...unless it agrees with your position.
Taking it down another notch on the personal scale, let's look at what data we collect locally in a third-person way: “That guy, he's just a jerk.” “Man, she's really got it together.” “I'm a mess.” “I'm the best thing since sliced bread.” “Look at the way they do sitting meditation, can't sit still for more than a minute.” “Wow, that Roshi, he's enlightened, I'll never get there.” “I am SO freakin' enlightened.” “Oh, well he's Hinayana, so you know, he's just in it for himself.” “I save all sentient beings on a daily basis.” “Hmmm, Zen...that's nice, but it's not the True Teaching.” “Pure Land...Oh. Are you a fisherman or something?”

There's something even more personal—keeping score of my actions...and yours. The Metta-Data.“I helped an old lady cross the street, I'm so proud of myself.” “She was mean to me, so she'll get it back ten-fold.” “I drive a hybrid, I care so much for the environment.” “Well, he does drive an SUV, so, y'know...” “I take a bike to work!”

All more data collection. All based on there being some sort of real, enduring, self. Separation between you and me, us and them, self and other. And inherently delusional. It's the reality of things that are thought, and delusional nonetheless. Can do things to gain “points” on the karmic scoreboard? If one does something “good,” but the intention is to gain anything, well...not bad, but not necessarily good.

Some Buddhist traditions put forth that one can not only accumulate merit, but that this merit can be transferred to another, such as a loved-one who has died, so that they may enjoy a more favorable rebirth.
The Diamond Sutra speaks of merit: “Subhuti, what do you think? If anyone filled three thousand galaxies of worlds with the seven treasures and gave all away in gifts of alms, would he gain great merit? Subhuti said: Great indeed, World-honored One! Wherefore? Because merit partakes of the character of no-merit, the Tathagata characterized the merit as great...Subhuti, I will declare a truth to you. If a good man or good woman filled three thousand galaxies of worlds with the seven treasures for each sand-grain in all those Ganges rivers, and gave all away in gifts of alms, would he gain great merit? Subhuti answered: Great indeed, World-honored One! Then Buddha declared: Nevertheless, Subhuti, if a good man or good woman studies this Discourse only so far as to receive and retain four lines, and teaches and explains them to others, the consequent merit would be far greater.”

Wait, what? Is it merit or no-merit? Is it something that can be accumulated, stored up, kept? Merit is no-merit, thus it is called merit. This, not-this, and not-not-this. For provisional convenience sake, pointing to the Relative, we call it this.

When Bodhidharma came to China, he was summoned to meet with Emperor, who said to him, "Since I came to the throne, I have built many temples, published numerous scriptures and supported countless monks and nuns. How great is the merit in all these?" Bodhidharma's response, “None whatsoever.”
The emperor asked him what the essence of Buddhism was. Bodhidharma's reply: “Vast emptiness, nothing holy.” The emperor went his way (I like to think with one eyebrow raised and with teeth clenched), Bodhidharma the other. So all the temple building, financial support for the monks, even just not killing them as foreign barbarians, or home-grown heretics...Nothing. Not bad things for an emperor to do (or not do), just not necessarily good. 
Good/bad are still dualistic, and dualistic concepts to boot. Accumulating “good” karma, attaching to “good” karma, revulsion at “bad” karma are elements of dukkha—suffering—just another spoke in the samasaric wheel. Good, not-good, so we call it good.. Bad, not-bad, so we call it bad.
What is Metta? It's a Pali word, usually defined as loving-kindness. Sometimes it's described as compassion, but that somehow falls short. Altruism...that's in there, but not the totality. So far as I'm concerned, metta is just metta. Words, as they often do, don't quite hit the mark in describing the actual mind of metta. It's one of those Absolute things; so far as I can tell, there's no not-metta. Maybe it's not manifested at all times, but it's there, like Buddha-Nature.

Here, from the Pali Canon is the Metta Sutta:

This is what should be accomplished by the one who is wise,
Who seeks the good, and has obtained peace.
Let one be strenuous, upright, and sincere,
Without pride, easily contented, and joyous.
Let one not be submerged by the things of the world.
Let one not take upon oneself the burden of riches.
Let one's senses be controlled.
Let one be wise but not puffed up and
Let one not desire great possessions even for one's family.
Let one do nothing that is mean or that the wise would
May all beings be happy.
May they be joyous and live in safety,
All living beings, whether weak or strong,
In high or middle or low realms of existence.
Small or great, visible or invisible,
Near or far, born or to be born,
May all beings be happy.
Let no one deceive another nor despise any being in any state.
Let none by anger or hatred wish harm to another.
Even as a mother at the risk of her life
Watches over and protects her only child,
So with a boundless mind should one cherish all living things.
Suffusing love over the entire world,
Above, below, and all around, without limit,
So let one cultivate an infinite good will toward the whole world.
Standing or walking, sitting or lying down,
During all one's waking hours,
Let one practice the way with gratitude.
Not holding to fixed views,
Endowed with insight,
Freed from sense appetites,
One who achieves the way
Will be freed from the duality of birth and death.

If one can perform acts of metta,without the notion that it will have any payoff whatsoever, that is having the mind of metta. If one can realize that there is no merit in having the mind of metta, and have that mind regardless, then one gains great merit. And no-merit. And that's OK. 

But don't keep score, don't puff yourself up for having done something “good,” don't denigrate someone who doesn't live up to your standards. Don't practice spiritual materialism, as Chogyam Trungpa called it, as if there were riches to be accumulated and clung to.

Don't bother collecting the Metta-Data. It's just a creation of thinking (which is no-thinking, therefore we call it thinking).
And may you and all beings be happy.