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Unbending the Twig
Posted: 17 April 2007 07:57 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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"As the twig is bent, so grows the tree." - proverb

Is is possible to unbend the twig?  To be free of our conditioning?  Do we have to spend our entire life, like most people, bent in the ideological shape our parents and society instilled in us?

Here are some suggestions on this question, adapted from the comments of Zen master Dahui as translated by Thomas Cleary in his book, 'Zen Essence - The Science of Freedom.'

'If you want to know the realm of the unbent twig, you should make your mind as clear as space; detach from imaginings and from all effort and grasping, making your mind unimpeded wherever it turns.

'The realm of the unbent twig is not an external realm with manifest characteristics, it is the realm of the sacred knowledge found in oneself.

'There is no need for the trappings of religion or spirituality in becoming unbent.  You do not need paraphernalia, practices, or realizations to attain it - what you need to do is to clean out the influences of the psychological afflictions connected with the external world that have been accumulating in your psyche since beginningless time.

'Make your mind as wide open as cosmic space; detach from graspings in the conceptual consciousness, and false ideas and imaginings will also be like empty space.  Then this effortless subtle mind will naturally be unimpeded wherever it turns.

'Realizing the unbent twig is to find your own inherent natural being in the fundamental wellspring of your self.  There is not a single time, a single place, a single phenomenon, a single event, a single body, a single land, a single realm of being, where this is not present.'

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“The simple fables of the religious of the world have come to seem like tales told to children.”  - Nobel Prize recipient - Francis Crick

“It is time we recognized the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved.” - Sam Harris

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Posted: 17 April 2007 09:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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But a tree is much more interesting and beautiful with it’s many bends. It is a paradox.

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Posted: 17 April 2007 12:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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[quote author=“mentor”]But a tree is much more interesting and beautiful with it’s many bends. It is a paradox.

 

But we don’t see the tree, much less the forest with blurred vision.

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Posted: 17 April 2007 07:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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[quote author=“burt”][quote author=“mentor”]But a tree is much more interesting and beautiful with it’s many bends. It is a paradox.

 

But we don’t see the tree, much less the forest with blurred vision.

It’s not for you to tell us these things, if I understand your general POV. The above is practically Saturnalian in its gusto. Saturn, of course, is now known to be a big ball of gas ringed with a profusion of chunks of ice and dust.

Burt, I really have no idea what qualifies you as an ophthalmologist. You’re playing at sitting under the Bodhi tree, and only hoping our vision is clear enough to see you there with light around you.

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Posted: 18 April 2007 02:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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[quote author=“Salt Creek”]  It’s not for you to tell us these things

Laddy, would you care to re-phrase that? Would you like my help?

Burt, I really have no idea what qualifies you as an ophthalmologist.

Burt will not be working on your eyes. He couldn’t afford the insurance.

You’re playing at sitting under the Bodhi tree

YES! Some of us come here to play. We just want read each others minds. This kind of exercise builds the muscles of discovery and skepticism. We want to know what’s out there as seen from distant mentalities. Here, we can share our subjective realities on a scale that no other generation has ever enjoyed. Who knows how long this will last? 

You might recall a sort of two-tiered approach I mentioned a ways back about how we deal with spirituality once freed from the clutches of the religious. What was it you said?
[quote author=“Salt Creek”] I like your closing image of spirituality as a kind of “funhouse” for the mind.


Most of us appreciate the level of scrutiny you can provide and with what concision you crack the whip. I know I sure do. You post of a few days ago, about social and private moralities, was near perfect. Always stepping in to remind us just what the hard-core, peer-review side looks like. And correcting us when we fail to see just how high the bar is. I know something about the life of mental discipline you must lead in order to muster your frequent quality contributions. However, you may be taking your work home with you more than you really need to. You read like a playground bully beating us around with your great big brain.

I will stand up for Burt. I’ve been liking his stuff more and more. So much so that I am posting less. You should root for him to keep up the good work until I go away altogether.

and only hoping our vision is clear enough to see you there with light around you.


NO!
Most of us find such unintended glowing quite embarrassing! If asked for our solution to everything (and in 5.5 type), most of us would burst into tears. And please pardon our gusto!

Maybe there is no escaping sounding like a flaming egoist with delusions of grandeur from these little gray boxes. What if we all took the time to include with our slogans, our suggested “familiar voice” we feel best approximates what we thought we hearing as we wrote. Anything from “Charlton Hesston as Moses” to the Hitchhiker’s “Voice of the Book”, or from “Mussolini” to “Charo”. Most of the time, I would choose to be heard as Adam West doing his soft-spoken Batman, or John Astin’s Gomez Addams waving his cigar. Lately, I’ve been hearing you as the My Aunt Linda character from SNL. Try picturing yourself with an orange safety belt on. Or, as a lifeguard (albeit a Darwinist) who tells us when we’ve swum out too deep.

I’m not saying that some of us aren’t wearing their cape too tight or waving a blunt. I confess that I too have watched you work with the same morbid fascination engendered when watching nature shows on PBS. MPL is all yours.

Be nice to Textman, he means well. Saturn can have a kind of primal beauty when seen from a distance.

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Posted: 18 April 2007 03:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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[quote author=“Salt Creek”][quote author=“burt”][quote author=“mentor”]But a tree is much more interesting and beautiful with it’s many bends. It is a paradox.

 

But we don’t see the tree, much less the forest with blurred vision.

It’s not for you to tell us these things, if I understand your general POV. The above is practically Saturnalian in its gusto. Saturn, of course, is now known to be a big ball of gas ringed with a profusion of chunks of ice and dust.

Burt, I really have no idea what qualifies you as an ophthalmologist. You’re playing at sitting under the Bodhi tree, and only hoping our vision is clear enough to see you there with light around you.

Last time it was Jupiter so it’s hard to tell if this is a descending scale or not since now there are rings.  Maybe I should be a bit more Mercurial?  At least you can spell opthalmologist, I wouln’t have even tried.  Anyway, have never sat under a Bodhi tree, and it doesn’t seem like that Saturn would fit there.  But if you start seeing me with light around me better go see a doctor, or set yourself up as an aura reader so you can get in on the scam.  LOL

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Posted: 21 April 2007 06:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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[quote author=“mentor”]But a tree is much more interesting and beautiful with it’s many bends. It is a paradox.

Suffer the little children not to be warped.

Maybe I didn’t make it clear that I was talking about branches that are artificially bent by people who think that they can improve on the beauty of nature.  Children are bent out of shape by their parents, or their society.  If you are born in this house, you’re bent into the shape of a person who thinks Christians are infidels, and if you’re born in this house you’re bent into the shape of a person who thinks Muslims are going to hell.  I had hoped this topic, ‘Unbending the Twig’ could explore the possibility of assuming one’s natural, original shape after being stunted as a child, like a human bonsai.

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“It is time we recognized the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved.” - Sam Harris

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Posted: 22 April 2007 04:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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[quote author=“unsmoked”][quote author=“mentor”]But a tree is much more interesting and beautiful with it’s many bends. It is a paradox.

Suffer the little children not to be warped.

Maybe I didn’t make it clear that I was talking about branches that are artificially bent by people who think that they can improve on the beauty of nature.  Children are bent out of shape by their parents, or their society.  If you are born in this house, you’re bent into the shape of a person who thinks Christians are infidels, and if you’re born in this house you’re bent into the shape of a person who thinks Muslims are going to hell.  I had hoped this topic, ‘Unbending the Twig’ could explore the possibility of assuming one’s natural, original shape after being stunted as a child, like a human bonsai.

Good point.  It seems to me that the bending is, in its way, a necessary process and the unbending ought to be equally natural.  Children have to be brought up within some structure, ideally one that is as gentle and non-distorting as possible.  But they have to be brought up to get along in society, and then learn as young adults to become individuals.

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Posted: 22 April 2007 05:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Very interesting thread about “unbending the twig” but it seems to me that you simply need to start a new tree, because the old twigs have become so brittle that they will just break when you attempt to “unbend” them.  Anyway, I do believe that the metaphor can work, and that twigs can be unbent, but in order for that to happen the “twig” will need to understand how it has been bent, manipulated, coerced, limited, etc..

I think what you are saying, unsmoked, is that there is a purely natural condition of being human that is essentially good, that without the excessive bending we will naturally develop in that correct direction.  Most people do not view human nature in this way, in fact, most (especially christians) view human nature as malevolent (sinful).

I once had a disagreement with a professor (he was basically an Aristotelian who felt that following the Golden Mean [not the Rule] was the best way to teach children to be socially and morally cognizant).  I tried to explain that teaching a Daoist view of the cosmic structures/functions to children would produce socially and morally competent people.  He totally disagreed. He felt that Daoism would teach children nothing about the limits or the extremes of action and interaction.  He felt that a daoist perspective was something that ONLY a socially mature human being could grasp, but that it would be wasted on a child and in fact produce a flawed adult. 

I concluded that he did not really understand daoism, or perhaps he thought that human beings are born to be bad and only strict teachings concerning virtues and vices could mitigate this natural badness.

Of interest to me was the fact that most people I knew who had been brought up with zen influences or daoist understandings were the most socially centered people I had ever met.  I could only conclude that how those twigs bent and unbent was according to some sort of natural principles, the result of which were some incredibly beautiful human beings.

Bob

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Posted: 22 April 2007 07:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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[quote author=“CanZen”]Very interesting thread about “unbending the twig” but it seems to me that you simply need to start a new tree, because the old twigs have become so brittle that they will just break when you attempt to “unbend” them.  Anyway, I do believe that the metaphor can work, and that twigs can be unbent, but in order for that to happen the “twig” will need to understand how it has been bent, manipulated, coerced, limited, etc..

I think what you are saying, unsmoked, is that there is a purely natural condition of being human that is essentially good, that without the excessive bending we will naturally develop in that correct direction.  Most people do not view human nature in this way, in fact, most (especially christians) view human nature as malevolent (sinful).

I once had a disagreement with a professor (he was basically an Aristotelian who felt that following the Golden Mean [not the Rule] was the best way to teach children to be socially and morally cognizant).  I tried to explain that teaching a Daoist view of the cosmic structures/functions to children would produce socially and morally competent people.  He totally disagreed. He felt that Daoism would teach children nothing about the limits or the extremes of action and interaction.  He felt that a daoist perspective was something that ONLY a socially mature human being could grasp, but that it would be wasted on a child and in fact produce a flawed adult. 

I concluded that he did not really understand daoism, or perhaps he thought that human beings are born to be bad and only strict teachings concerning virtues and vices could mitigate this natural badness.

Of interest to me was the fact that most people I knew who had been brought up with zen influences or daoist understandings were the most socially centered people I had ever met.  I could only conclude that how those twigs bent and unbent was according to some sort of natural principles, the result of which were some incredibly beautiful human beings.
Bob

 

I’ve had the same experiences, broadening a bit from zen and daoism to include essentially similar ways of being.  The only thing to be careful about is recognizing that children have different needs at different life stages.  Inyaht Khan, for example, said that a certain amount of rebellousness and disobedience at age 2 was a good thing and ought not be repressed, but channeled because it could become the basis for a strong will.  I’d really like to see a child rearing text written from a daoist perspective.

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Posted: 22 April 2007 08:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Burt, Canzen,

‘As the twig is bent, so grows the tree’.  To follow the metaphor, we know that once a sappling has grown into a tree trunk, its shape can’t really be changed.  I’ve often thought it would be great if kids in school (while they are still saplings) could sit at a roundtable and discuss their conditioning.
I’m not really familiar with the ‘art’ of bonsai, but using that imagery, a child could say, “I have a ten-pound brick hanging on my mind that is designed to bend me into a fundamentalist Christian.  Already I am convinced that the Bible is literallly true, and the only way to be saved is by accepting Jesus Christ as your savior.”

Another child might be bold enough to say, “My parents have wrapped wire around my branches so that when I grow up I will be a good Muslim, and already I am convinced that . . . ” (etc).  Guided by the teacher, the object of the class would be to show the kids how their minds were being shaped by their parents - religion, politics, opinions of all kinds - and how they might use their innate intelligence to see the whole process in action -how if they were suddenly adopted by another family, the wires and hanging bricks would be removed and a whole new set of warpings imposed on them.

Krishnamurti wrote a book called, ‘Education and the Significance of Life’.  I think he could imagine a school where children could have such classes. Classes where they could learn how to learn; learn how to distinguish propaganda; learn how nationalism causes wars, learn how to avoid being brainwashed, learn how to think and act creatively instead of from fixed data like a robot.

However, as you mention above, back to the fact that most of us were already bent tree trunks by the time we realized we were Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, conservatives or liberals.  Christians talk about being ‘born again’, and something like that has to happen when you’re already hopelessy bent or dwarfed and stiffened into a trunk by your bonsai artist parents or whoever.  Krishnamurti calls it a ‘mutation’, a psychological mutation.  Can we elaborate on what that might be?

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Posted: 22 April 2007 01:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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I don’t think you can “unbend” the branch. You have to work with the history you have. I started out life as a Southern Baptist, so my branches are very twisted indeed. But I have continued to grow. I managed to complete a degree in physical anthropology along the way, and I have a clearer picture than most of the evolutionary history of man. I am an agnostic who thinks Sam Harris’ opinions about religion make a lot of sense.

I think we have to accept the convoluted history and path. Religion is only natural after all. Nature does not come up with perfect solutions. It is trial and error, and a lot of pragmatism. Imperfect legs that may let you outrun a predator today are far superior to perfect legs tomorrow.

The evolution of our consciousness follows the same rules. A system like religion need not provide us perfect knowledge, all it need do is to help us survive to reproduce. But such evolutionary adaptations rarely last. Organisms must keep adapting, or go extinct. Religion is a system of consciousness that has become almost completely ossified. If we continue to hold onto it, our future may well read like revelations. Only we will not be recieving perfect legs, perfect bodies, perfect anything, after we are dead. We will simply become extinct like so many species have done before. And God will care about us, if there is a god, no more or less than he/she/it did for the demise of the trilobites.

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Posted: 22 April 2007 01:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“mentor”]I don’t think you can “unbend” the branch. You have to work with the history you have. I started out life as a Southern Baptist, so my branches are very twisted indeed. But I have continued to grow. I managed to complete a degree in physical anthropology along the way, and I have a clearer picture than most of the evolutionary history of man. I am an agnostic who thinks Sam Harris’ opinions about religion make a lot of sense.

I think we have to accept the convoluted history and path. Religion is only natural after all. Nature does not come up with perfect solutions. It is trial and error, and a lot of pragmatism. Imperfect legs that may let you outrun a predator today are far superior to perfect legs tomorrow.

The evolution of our consciousness follows the same rules. A system like religion need not provide us perfect knowledge, all it need do is to help us survive to reproduce. But such evolutionary adaptations rarely last. Organisms must keep adapting, or go extinct. Religion is a system of consciousness that has become almost completely ossified. If we continue to hold onto it, our future may well read like revelations. Only we will not be recieving perfect legs, perfect bodies, perfect anything, after we are dead. We will simply become extinct like so many species have done before. And God will care about us, if there is a god, no more or less than he/she/it did for the demise of the trilobites.

I think that the branches have to be bent in certain ways to enable a child to enter society.  It is the extra dogmatic bending that is the problem.  But bending is going to happen, no matter what.  Everybody has to develop an ego to relate in the world.  What is important in my opinion is training to develop an internal witness as well that recognizes that this ego is just a necessary automaton and not who one really is.  Unfortunately, the dogmatic belief systems don’t produce that, they produce people who identify personally with the system.

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Posted: 22 April 2007 02:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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[quote author=“burt”]. . .
I think that the branches have to be bent in certain ways to enable a child to enter society.  It is the extra dogmatic bending that is the problem.  But bending is going to happen, no matter what.  Everybody has to develop an ego to relate in the world.  What is important in my opinion is training to develop an internal witness as well that recognizes that this ego is just a necessary automaton and not who one really is.  Unfortunately, the dogmatic belief systems don’t produce that, they produce people who identify personally with the system.

Burt, I think you’ve isolated the crux of an important problem. Various levels of literality need to be explored or at least acknowledged much more than they are.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 22 April 2007 03:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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But the arguing never seems to get anywhere. Whereas if you set up a fair and square experiment in which people can act nobly, fairly, and with integrity, and you find that most of one group does, and most of another group does not, that’s a fact, not an opinion. And if you keep finding the same thing experiment after experiment, and other people do too, then that’s a body of facts that demands attention. Some people, we have seen to our dismay, don’t care a hoot what scientific investigation reveals. But most people do.

The above is from The Authoritarians, an E-book that robertdfeinman is touting in another thread.

I wouldn’t have a problem with any of this twiggishness, but so far, it’s still all up in the head. In every sense of the word, even the nautical. I don’t mind somebody injecting a dollop of neoplatonism into the curriculum, or a dollop of zen centeredness, or even have a few whirling dervishes show up for a school assembly now and then. But I want to see those who urge these contributions to be included to make sure they acknowledge the role played by a scientific appreciation of just what is a fact, and what is an opinion

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Posted: 22 April 2007 05:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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[quote author=“homunculus”][quote author=“burt”]. . .
I think that the branches have to be bent in certain ways to enable a child to enter society.  It is the extra dogmatic bending that is the problem.  But bending is going to happen, no matter what.  Everybody has to develop an ego to relate in the world.  What is important in my opinion is training to develop an internal witness as well that recognizes that this ego is just a necessary automaton and not who one really is.  Unfortunately, the dogmatic belief systems don’t produce that, they produce people who identify personally with the system.

Burt, I think you’ve isolated the crux of an important problem. Various levels of literality need to be explored or at least acknowledged much more than they are.

Exactly.  What we need is some way to evaluate myth, to be able to say that one is more appropriate, at a given level of interpretation, according to some set of objective criteria.  We have two sets of criteria already: rational coherence (not necessarily “logical” in the usual sense), and empirical.  In this case, empirical criteria would seem to have to be along the lines of knowing a tree by its frult.  But I think there would have to be another set of criteria related to the idea of teachability.  This is something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while but don’t have any definite conclusions.  Salt Creek is right, we don’t want to give up rationality and empirical verification but there is a third set of criteria that has to be developed, just as in the seventeenth century they had to develop the criteria of repeatable experiments and statistical validity.  Lots of scientists think that science is now a done deal and no longer evolving, we have the rational/empirical methods and that is it.  I disagree with this, we have that method but need to develop something further.  With rationality we can eliminate incoherent systems and devise interpretations that remove contradictions, with empiricism we can test results, but there are lots of different ways of coherently explaining the same set of data so we also need a way to choose between differing explanations, or as with the Heisenberg and Schrodinger approaches to quantum mechanics, show that they are equivalent (for example, is a daoist approach to reality in any way equivalent to a zen approach?  What are the verifiable benefits of each?  And so on).  In science this sort of evaluation goes under the non-empirical headings of elegance, simplicity, beauty, and so on but the question as I see it is whether there are more objective criteria.

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