GNU/Linux nerd and linuxgamer with a beard and a passion for beer.
64 stories
·
1 follower

Borders, Microscopes, and Extinguishing the Ego

1 Comment

First I gotta plug our upcoming retreat.

On April 21-23, 2017 we’re having another Zen retreat at Mount Baldy. Zen retreats are a great way to deepen your practice and get beyond our usual ways of relating to ourselves and others.

I practiced zazen at home by myself for over a decade before I attended my first multi-day retreat with Nishijima Roshi in Shizuoka, Japan in the early 1990’s. In retrospect, I should have sold a guitar or something for the chance to attend one of Katagiri Roshi’s retreats in Minneapolis back when I lived in Ohio. But I was not very smart then.

Now meditation retreats are everywhere. But ours are the best. They’re neither too hard nor too easy, neither too full of ceremony nor too self-consciously devoid of ceremony. We don’t talk your ears off, nor do we leave you to stew in your own juices too much. There’s yoga to help your sore legs and beautiful scenery to remind you what it’s like outside the city.

We’re probably going to cut back on having so many retreats, so get in while you can.

And speaking of ego and the Buddhist idea of no self, here’s a question I got via email:

“Hi Brad. I have a simple question for you that has got me thinking. Through meditation practice, do we ever eventually truly extinguish the ego or do we learn to rise above it by seeing it for what it is (empty) through continuous presence? The Heart Sutra line ‘Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form’ seems applicable if the latter is the case, correct?”

Here’s my answer, embellished for the blog:

I know the traditional metaphor of putting out a fire has been used for thousands of years by Buddhists, but I feel like the phrase “extinguish the ego” is not quite right.

The ego is a mental construct that has some usefulness. Just like “The United States” is a mental construct that has some usefulness.

The ego (or self) is an imaginary border we draw around a group of inter-related aspects of our experience, like we draw an imaginary border around what we call the USA.

Marijuana is now fully legal in California, but if you try to drive across the border at El Chaparral near Tijuana with your mota, you could get in trouble. Likewise, you can buy Viagra at any drug store in Mexico, but bringing it back up the I-5 freeway into California is a problem. Human beings can’t cross that border without being inspected by other human beings. But if a lizard wants to chase a grasshopper across it, other lizards don’t get too fussed. The border is a concept we humans carry in our collective imagination. Yet you can’t really say the border doesn’t exist.

The fire that those ancient Buddhists talk about is the fire that arises because we make mistakes about the nature of ego/self and then get all hot and bothered about things that aren’t actually real. That fire may get (metaphorically) extinguished, but not the ego. Not exactly anyhow.

We think we are what we think we are. But we’re not what we think. At least not entirely.

Because we make mistakes about who we are, we end up worrying about problems that aren’t really problems. Some of us dedicate our entire lives to worrying about problems that aren’t really problems. That’s when it feels like a fire.

Like the imaginary border between the American State of California and the Mexican State of Baja California, the imaginary border we call “self” does have some utilitarian value. I don’t want to get into a big debate about immigration here. But I think people on all sides of the arguments understand the basic value of having national borders. It’s a way to keep conflicts between human cultures from getting out of hand. Even though things still do get crazy sometimes, the concept of a border generally keeps things more peaceful than they’d be if we didn’t have that concept.

Maybe one day human beings won’t need borders. I certainly hope we get to that point. But I know I won’t be alive to see that happen. And I know that if someone tried to force the whole world to open all of its borders before people were ready for it, the results would be catastrophic.

The same may be true with the border called “self.” It’s just as arbitrary and imaginary as any national border. But understanding even that much is difficult. And trying to cross that border before you’re ready can be damaging. That’s why we take this very slowly.

We certainly appear to be eternally separate individuals. I do not have access to anyone else’s memories. I can’t know anything about your internal life unless you tell me. If I smack you on the face, you feel it on your cheek and I feel it on my hand. There seems to be an essential difference between me and the outside world.

It would be idiotic to claim there was no difference at all. There is a difference. And yet, with a bit of meditation practice you begin to see that this difference that seems like such a huge, insurmountable barrier is actually very small.

It’s like you’ve spent your whole life looking through a microscope and then you take your eye away from the eyepiece.

If that actually happened, what you’d see couldn’t fail to be shocking. And yet it’s not as if anything has changed except your perspective. What you saw through the microscope did not become extinguished. It’s still there and you can still see things that way by just putting your eye back on the eyepiece.

All that’s changed is that you’ve seen how small the thing you’d spent your life looking at really was all along.

* * *

Here’s another plug! You can register for the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles Spring Retreat April 21-23, 2017 at Mt Baldy Zen Center right now! 

Led by Brad Warner, this three-day intensive retreat will focus primarily on the practice of zazen. Morning chanting services, work periods, and yoga (led by Nina Snow) will round out the daily activities. The program will also feature lectures by Brad, as well as the opportunity for dokusan (personal meetings).  Participants will be able to take advantage of this beautiful location for hiking during free periods.

Click for the registration form, practice schedules and more!

* * *


DON’T BE A JERK
is now available as an audiobook from Audible.com as are Hardcore Zen and Sit Down and Shut Up and There is No God and He is Always With You!

* * *

I have a YouTube channel now! Check it out!

***

And here’s my Patreon page!

***

 

Check out my podcast with Pirooz Kalayeh, ONCE AGAIN ZEN!

 * * *

I’ve got a new book out now! Stay up to date on my live appearances and more by signing up for our mailing list on the contact page

UPCOMING EVENTS

September 7-10, 2017 Retreat in Finland

September 15-20, 2017 Retreat at Domicilium, Weyarn, Germany

September 22, 2017 Talk in Munich, Germany

September 23, 2017 Retreat in Munich, Germany

September 24-29, 2017 Retreat at Benediktushof, near Wurzburg, Germany

October 1-4, 2017 Retreat in Hebden Bridge, England

ONGOING EVENTS

Every Monday at 7:30pm there’s zazen at Angel City Zen Center (NEW TIME, NEW PLACE!) 1407 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90026 Beginners only!

Every Saturday at 10:00 am there’s zazen at the Angel City Zen Center (NEW PLACE!) 1407 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90026 Beginners only!

These on-going events happen every week even if I am away from Los Angeles. Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info

* * *

I make my living mostly from your donations. If you find a little bit of truth in what I’m saying remember that even a small donation helps. Your donations are my major means of paying my rent. Thank you!

 
Read the whole story
psyq
1323 days ago
reply
Brad is firing off a broadside of fantastic similes today.
Switzerland
Share this story
Delete

A TAlE OF TWO TALES: HORIZON ZERO DAWN & THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD

1 Comment
I've not yet finished Horizon Zero Dawn or Breath of the Wild, but I've been sitting on my tongue for the last few days. There's so much I want to say about them - both in their own right, and in comparison to one another. 

And now? And now I can "park" my "waggler" no longer.

You see, I started playing the new Zelda immediately after playing Horizon Zero Dawn. I was startled by the similarities between them - literally startled; I fell off the sofa, and had to hide beneath the dining table for ten minutes, chittering.

Both feature protagonists who wield a bow and melee weapons. Both are set in a vast open world. And both require the player to gather materials and craft things. 

And yet, while the basic ingredients are the same, and they are essentially the same recipe, they present them in vastly different ways. Where Breath of the Wild takes its ingredients and prepares a dish with great care, in which every ingredient has a place - and the space - to contribute, Zero Dawn just chucks them all in a mixer, pours the resultant slop into a bowl, and grates a whoopee cushion over the top.
IMPORTANT BIT
For the record, before I came to Zelda, I was enjoying Horizon Zero Dawn. It's an unquestionably beautiful game, and though it is fundamentally striving to be photorealistic, there's some really quite lovely art design going on. Also, a lot of dull forests and mountains, which look like all the other forests and mountains in all the other games.

Still, as much as I sort of like it, there was also much about Horizon Zero Dawn which was getting right on my tit-tays. Specifically, it was to do with the way Horizon Zero Dawn tried to tell its story.

At its core, it's actually a decent enough little tale, playing out in a compelling world - set years after an unspecified apocalypse, where robotic wildlife now dominates the landscape. However, in telling this tale, it strives for grandeur, and epicness, and portent, and it merely serves to underline how needlessly bloated video game storytelling has become.


It certainly doesn't help that the voice acting is all over the place. Even within one tribe there's no consistency of performance. You'll get teens who talk like they're hanging around a bus station butting up against wannabe Vikings. The dialogue is tiresome and dull, characters are fundamentally unlikeable and difficult to root for, and the cut-scenes might as well just be a deafening klaxon, and somebody shouting "THIS BIT IS IMPORTANT!" over and over.

And then I played Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and got the answer to a question that I didn't even know I wanted answering.
SURPRISING ADVENTURE
What's surprising about Breath of the Wild is just how much it has been influenced by games of recent years. What is really lovely about that is how Nintendo has cherry-picked the parts of the open world genre that it likes, but ignored most of it. Unlike the spineless approach of most developers, they had the guts to trust that less is almost always more.

It's like they created a game specifically for me. Everything I've raged about in recent years, about tedious cut-scenes, bad acting, awful characterisation... I can't criticise any of that in Breath of the Wild, because it simply isn't there.

Your main character is a blank slate. There's no bad acting, because everything is conveyed through text. The cut-scenes are kept to a minimum, and when they do appear they're utterly charming - because they're not pretending to be movie clips. There's something wonderfully life-affirming and optimistic about everything that Breath of the Wild does.

However, perhaps its greatest accomplishment is in how it has humiliated the entire video games industry. It has shown them exactly where they've been messing up in trying to emulate cinema. It has shown them that their bloated storytelling is thoroughly unnecessary.

​If you follow the story in Breath of the Wild - and you don't even have to do that, if you don't want to - you'll be treated to a tale which is all the more epic and spine-tingling and magical for the economical way in which it's being told.

Indeed, even when the story isn't being told, it still surrounds you. The sense of history in Hyrule is palpable - and despite taking place in a cartoonish, cel-shaded world, is far more evocative and convincing and consistent than Horizon Zero Dawn's misjudged, tonally wonky, hipster-populated, future.
WOKE
I'd love for Breath of the Wild to be a wake-up call to the games industry, but I'm not optimistic. While, in my opinion, Nintendo has shown how video games should always handle their storytelling - basically, how it used to be done - most developers seem addicted to their bloat. 

Instead of asking themselves how video games can tell a story - through gameplay, through art design - there seems to be an endless quest to top the previous most-epic game. There's something depressing and spineless and unimaginative about it. It's the opposite of true creativity.

Apart from certain independent titles, and the games of Naughty Dog and - perhaps - Rockstar, I've not played a game in years which has been able to tell a story that could compete with the best cinema has to offer. Clumsy, leaden writing, and an utter inability to make the player feel for the characters, has now become the norm. Do we enjoy it, or have we merely learned to tolerate it?

The problem seems to stem from an obsession with trying to prove that games can stand shoulder to shoulder with cinema. Except... they hardly ever do. And the infuriating thing is that hardly anybody stops to ask whether trying is even the right thing to do.

By stripping away the sort of graphical clout of something like Horizon Zero Dawn, by reducing the narrative to its bare bones, Breath of the Wild is more emotional, more effective, more engaging, more epic than The Witcher III, Dragon Age Inquisition, Skyrim, and pretty much any other RPG you can think of. Not to mention the Call of Duty series, or... well, basically any game which forces us to suffer through a cut-scene. 

Too often, video games are trying to be something else. Or - at the very least - feeding off one another, and not stopping to ask whether the games they're plagiarising from are getting it right. 

Unfortunately for them, Breath of the Wild has just proved that they're all doing it completely wrong. It revels in being a video game, and the potential that offers. It makes abundantly clear that video games were getting storytelling right decades ago, before you all ruined it.

​Thank Mumm-raa that Nintendo still realises it, and Gawd bless their integrity and stubbornness.
Read the whole story
psyq
1357 days ago
reply
I'm very happy Nintendo has not forgotten how to create real games that feel like games. As opposed to non-games that are half-assed movies.
Switzerland
Share this story
Delete

Selbstfahrende Autos: US-Regierung drückt auf die Tube

1 Comment
Anthony Foxx

Plötzlich geht es schnell: In den letzten Monaten seiner Amtszeit will das Team um Barack Obama das Fundament für die Einführung autonomer Fahrzeuge legen. Das soll Leben retten. Unausgesprochen bleibt das Ziel, Asien und Europa zu überrunden.

Read the whole story
psyq
1526 days ago
reply
So the race for autonomous cars becomes in 2016 what the arms race and the space race were earlier.
Switzerland
Share this story
Delete

'What this video game needs is actual footage of real gruesome deaths'

1 Comment

Animal rights group wants input into design of Farming Simulator 17

Protests about video games usually call for less violence. But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has called for more violence - and more graphic violence – in the forthcoming Farming Simulator 17.…

Read the whole story
psyq
1533 days ago
reply
Why not? While they're trying to be realistic, they might as well show the reality of gruesome animal deaths.
Switzerland
Share this story
Delete

saint

1 Comment and 5 Shares

saint

This month’s raffle winner is Alan from Wisconsin. Congrats, Alan – you win a signed print of your choice.

Have you considered becoming a Patron of Jesus & Mo? Click the image below to see what it’s about. Rewards abound!


.

Read the whole story
psyq
1534 days ago
reply
Switzerland
Share this story
Delete
1 public comment
ScottInPDX
1536 days ago
reply
Seems the bar for miracles got lower after God died...
Portland, Oregon, USA, Earth

dress

1 Comment and 3 Shares

dress

Read the whole story
psyq
1534 days ago
reply
Sad or funny, I can't tell anymore.
Switzerland
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories