Monthly Archives: October 2006

Spinsters and Hinayana Buddhism

Right now I am readng Paul Baker’s excellent book Using Corpora in Discourse Analysis. A corpus or corpora are linguists’ tool to uncover hidden agendas within language use. I was particularly interested in the chapter about collocation where Baker focused on the use in English of the words bachelor and spinster. But it wasn’t so much how these words are used but rather who uses these terms that caught my attention.

Spinster is almost always used by someone else who is usually not a “spinster” to refer to someone who is. An unmarried person would almost never use this term to refer to herself. The same could be said of bachelor but it has a more positive meaning. Depending on factors like age and social status being referred to as a bachelor does not necessarily have a negative connotation. But the term spinster invariably is negative.

So you may be wondering what does Hinayana Buddhism has to do with the term spinster? Bare with me for a moment. My introduction into Buddhism was through Zen. I actually became a lay monk. Zen has some very good aspects about it. But like most religions or sects it constructs itself to be the norm. It was years later before I would take a step back and look at Zen from the “outside”.

When one looks at Buddhist history one will definitely come across the terms Hinayana and Mahayana. Hinayana literally is the “lesser vehicle” and Mahayana is the “greater vehicle”. The type of Buddhism practiced in Japan comes under the umbrella term of Mahayana. Historically it is a kind of Buddhism developed later. As the term suggests it is “superior” to the Hinayana.

But this is really strange. Why would anyone – the Hinayana – want to make derogatory their own practice. This is fact is not the case. The Hinayana Buddhists never use the term to refer to themselves. They usually use the term Theravada. Theravada Buddhism is the only surviving Buddhism of the early form. They pride themselves in being the closest to the original teaching of the Buddha (and whether this is a necessarily a good thing or not is another debate). So like spinster it is a term used to refer to The Other. This of course has a lot to do with power play and legitimation of one’s own discourse. The term Mahayana really has no meaning other than in contrast to its binary – Hinayana.

I have had dialogues with Zen Buddhists who think these terms are not an issue. But I believe they are and they need to be looked at in order to understand what their own beliefs are because to not question one’s position is to be blinded by it. I would hate to think what would a spinster Hinayana Buddhist would think of all this?

Postmodernism2

In my last post about Postmodernism I mentioned that it is not dead but very much alive. And in academia if you are trained to pick it up you will. So let me give you just a few examples from my first week back in university.

In my Teaching Writing class we started reading the first chapter of Second Language Writing by Ken Hyland. This is what Mr Hyland had to say:

So, while [English Language Teaching is] often treated as historically evolving movements (e.g., Raimes 1991), it would be wrong to see each theory growing out of and replacing the last. They are more accurately seen as as complementary and overlapping perspectives, representing potentially compatible means of understanding the complex reality of writing.

The “next replacing the last” is a dead give away of Modernist ideology. And anytime one thinks and believes that everything is complementary one is leaning towards Postmodernist ideas. Here is another example from a textbook on the history of English Language Teaching:

If we examine each of the [three language teaching] principles in turn, we can see how they generated unexpected consequences, some of which turned out to be more controversial than they seemed at first sight.

Here we see how wrong someone can be eventhough he or she was sure of their methodology. Actually this is somewhat like the statement in the first example where they believe it replaces what has come previously. This kind of thinking was typical of the early twentieth century. It is a firm believe – wrongly – in the idea of progress.

But even life is not a continual march toward some pinnicle, a straight line to the top. If life was that simple then we would be there by now. Or as the author John Barth put it: like an ox-cart driver in monsoon season or the skipper of a grounded ship, one must sometimes go forward by going back. Life is not a straight line. Even if it is windy it is not always mean we are getting closer. We must travel away from it sometimes to get close to it.

So Postmodernism may sound complicated in the end it really is not dissimiliar to “good ol’ fashion commonsense”. But don’t let a Postmodernist hear you say that. You would be accused of being Modernist.

Dragonfly

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Human/Nature

I have just started a course on the understanding of the natural environment. In it we are to given firsthand experience in observing what nature not just in the photographs or in the classroom. The aim of the class is also to show how to make our own instruments for the observation of natural phenomenon.

After the class and during the long drive home I recalled a question that has been puzzling me for two years now – what is the natural environment? It seems to me that every time we talk about the natural environment we talk about it without us – human beings – being involved in it. But are we not a product of the environment? Are we not really just another animal within the animal kingdom?

Sure we separate ourselves from the rest of the animal world. The binary opposites we, humans, use is animal and human. And with these terms we pretend to be rulers of some sort. Our practices show that we feel we have the right to choose how animals live (or die). We simply rank ourselves higher than the animals over whom we believe we own. In short, the world is our slave and property.

This is not new of course. Animal rights as a movement has already pointed this out. Animal testing is a contradiction in itself – the use of animals is justified they are similar enough to us (humans) to make the results valid, yet they are different enough from us (humans) to consider it not cruel to do the types of experiments we wouldn’t do to other humans in the first place. So which is it?

Assuming we are just another animal within the web of life, not one that is at its pinnacle, but one that is only one part of it. So what are we doing to this web and what is our role within this system? If we are to take our present way of living as an indicator then we are like a cancer. Ecosystems generally try to reach a self-sustaining mode. But humans try to destroy as much as possible for the sake of things called economy and nation. Sustainability seems to be the last thing on the minds of economies and nationhood, seeing not the larger picture but choosing a narrow view of life.

One has to ask are we higher creatures or just shortsighted animals within a capacity to not only deceive others but ourselves also? Or perhaps this is nature’s way of culling planetary overpopulation, or if you are religiously inclined God’s sick sense of humour.

Mara’s Dictionary – internet security

internet security – (n. phr.) the warm fuzzy feeling one gets when one connects to her/his internet service provider and finds it is not down due to server failure or maintenance.

See the rest of Mara’s Dictionary

Postmodernism1

The question of whether postmodernism is alive or dead is really not an issue. Because it is all about perspective. And it is about how postmodernism is used and who uses it. To put it in the negative it is about how it is dismissed it and who dismisses it.

Postmodernism isn’t dead. It is very much alive simply because we are talking about it. We debating whether it is alive is in itself to give it life. It is however different to, say, Nietzsche’s “God is dead” proclamation because Nietzsche was making a statement about the end of religion’s grip on power over us. And it is also different to saying that Elvis is dead since this is a fact (or as some may want you to believe that he is living as an old man somewhere in Florida).

But if we are to take it to mean something like Nietzsche’s declaration, that is God has no power over us anymore, then I will still have to contend the point. While it would be ridiculous to say it is trying to become the dominant discourse, it never was trying to do so in the first place. And if it did try it isn’t postmodernism. It is only a modernism in the guise of postmodern sheeps clothing. Postmodernism must therefore always be an anti-thesis to a thesis (which was an anti-thesis to something else) without ever coming to syn-thesis.

So now do you care to argue about whether Elvis is alive?