Monthly Archives: March 2008

This death is brought to you by…

So I am checking out the US death toll statistics in the War Against Terror and I am bombarded by:

  • a car advertisement,
  • a jewellery advertisement, and
  • an internet phone advertisement.

Not to mention there was a pop-up ad which my browser had blocked for me.

So my friend asks me why I hate advertising so much? And here is the answer. Some things are just tasteless and this is one of them.

Do we need to rush into biofuel?

It does not surprise me that our leaders want to rush headlong into untested “solutions” for our sustainability problems. They are not working for us but rather it is all about a paycheck which demands action and results rather than wisdom and judgment. But once in a while the opposition does speak out for us (humanity, whatever that means today) even if they do not have the power or listened to. But it is exactly because they have no power that we should listen to them; they do not have vested interests like most in positions of power.

The very reason why those who speak sense are not heard should be looked at seriously as a problem of society. The very systems which are supposed to be working for us are failing us. So when I ask “do we need to rush into biofuel?” one must also ask just exactly who is the “we” that is being represented? I certainly do not feel it is me or any of the other sustainability advocates out there.

Does the Hinayana have Buddha Nature?

“Does a dog have Buddha Nature?” a monk asked.
“Mu (No),” replied Master Joshu.

This is usually given as a first koan to Zen practitoners. It is the first koan in the Wu Men Kuan (Japanese: Mumonkan), one of the most important collections of its kind. A koan is a short example of sayings by Zen masters which reveal something of the truth. They are used as an aid to bring about Enlightenment. Zen students, particularly of the Rinzai School of Zen, are given koans to help them attain Enlightenment.

In a teisho (Dharma Talk) by Yamada Roshi he states that the answer should be obvious: all things have Buddha Nature (Buddhata). But here Joshu denies this when asked by a monk. Why? Because the monk is fixated on the answer and not the truth, to use a Zen analogy, mistaking the reflection of the moon in the water for the moon itself. Joshu was trying to “wake” the monk up from his delusion. And in this way Zen is a truly profound.

But the history of Buddha Nature has bothered me for some time now.

The school closest to the historical Buddha, Theravada (also called Hinayana) does not teach Buddha Nature nor is it a concept not within its discourse. The Pali Canon, the oldest writings based on the Buddha’s teaching, does not include this concept. It is only in the later works, the Mahayana writings, that we begin to find this concept. In other words, there is a probability that the concept was a later formulation. I say probability because there is also the probability that the Pali Canon may have ignored this teaching for reasons unknown. We can never be sure of this as we have lost important sources of information about the formation of the sutras.

All Mahayana schools believe that Buddha Nature (Buddhata) is inherent in all beings. However, some schools extend this to cover all things unconditionally. So to summarize there are three three possible views on this:

  1. Buddha Nature does not exist.
  2. Buddha Nature is inherent in all beings but not things.
  3. Buddha Nature is inherent in all being and things.

Given that there is no agreement among Buddhists some doubt then must be entertained as to its authenticity. This questioning must not be done out of one-upmanship but out of the true spirit of enquiry as to what the true nature of the self is. This idea is something akin to Dogen’s simultaneous acceptance and denial of Buddha Nature. It is a paradox but a paradox worth pursuing in order to come closer to Enlightenment, the highest ideal of the Buddha’s teaching which all schools do agree upon.

So does a dog have Buddha Nature? Well, the answer depends entirely on whether you are a Hinayana Buddhist, Mahayana Buddhist or non-Buddhist. If you are a Hinayana Buddhist the answer is, “What is Buddha Nature?” If you are a Mahayana Buddhist the answers is “Yes and no, but only if you are unenlightened, and you have to think about it, or if you have to ask”. If you are non-Buddhist the answer is “Who is this Buddha guy?”

Ways to promote public transport

I believe in public transport. I went car-less and licence-less until my late twenties.

Apart from being a low emission way to get around taking public transport means you can do other things with your time, like read. So UK’s call to the shift back to rail and other similar public transportation is a welcome voice.

There are other ways for governments to promote public transport, of course. Tax, for example. Back in the 1980s (not now) in Malaysia the automobile tax made owning a car for the average person impossible. So this meant most people (over 90 percent) rode motorbikes, a much more fuel efficient way to travel. And Malaysia being Malaysia this also meant seeing entire four-member families and their luggage zooming down highways alongside lorries. While I do not recommend this circus-like suicidal balancing act I do think greater taxes on cars is a way to reduce their numbers on the road. Singapore is a another good example of this. Back in the 1990s a Singaporean friend of mine told me the price of a Toyota Corolla was over three times for the same car in Australia or elsewhere (that is, some other “normal” country).

Apart from this Singapore also has special systems for limiting traffic. For example they alternate days between odd and even ending number plates, so there is only ever half the number of cars in certain zones (eg. congested city-centres) at any one time. And the fine is heavy if you are caught in the zone with the wrong number plate ending. You might say then what stops people from owning two cars, one with odd and one with even number plates. The answer is a lottery. It is near impossible to get even one car ownership licence in Singapore. And if you are wondering why they use such an elaborate system then just check how small the country is for its population.

While Malaysia and Singapore were not doing this out of concern for the environment there still is a lesson to be learnt in how governments can take action in slowing down consumption. But because government intervention (apparently now called public sector) is not in vogue these days we suffer for it. Personally I think we should have more government intervention, if it is the right kind. And the only way to ensure that is to vote the right people in.

Don’t bother wasting your energy on Energy Saving Day

It doesn’t surprise me that no saving occurred on Energy Saving Day. We are simply too selfish to do the right thing. As much talk as there is, it is wasted breath. The planet is truly better off without us. And at the rate we are using up resources that will not be too long.

50 facts that should change the world

I have been reading 50 facts that should change the world by Jessica Williams. She is a television producer for the BBC. She fleshes out each fact with a 3-5 page essay. Well worth a read. Here I have only given the facts without the essay. Hopefully these 50 facts will change the world.

1. The average Japanese woman can expect to live to be 84. The average Batswana will reach just 39.

2. A third of the world’s obese people live in the developing world.

3. The US and Britain have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world.

4. China has 44 million missing women.

5. Brazil has more Avon ladies than members of its armed services.

6. Eighty-one percent of the world’s executions in 2005 took place in just four countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the USA.

7. British supermarkets know more about their consumers than the British government does.

8. Every cow in the European Union is subsidised by $2.50 a day. That’s more than what 75 per cent of Africans have to live on.

9. In more than 70 countries, same-sex relationships are illegal. In nine countries, the penalty is death.

10. One in five of the world’s people live on less than a $1 a day.

11. More than 12,000 women are killed each year in Russia as a result of domestic violence.

12. In 2006, 16 million Americans had some form of plastic surgery.

13. Landmines kill or maim at least one person every hour.

14. There are 44 million child labourers in India.

15. People in industrialised countries eat between fourteen and fifteen pounds of food additives every year.

16. David Beckham’s deal with the LA Galaxy Football team will earn him $100 every minute.

17. Seven million American women and 1 million American men suffer from eating disorder.

18. Twenty-eight percent of American teenagers have tried illegal drugs and more than a quarter are regular cigarette smokers.

19. One million people become new mobile subscribers everyday. some eighty-five percent of them live in emerging markets.

20. Cars kill two people every minute.

21. Since 1977, there have been nearly 120,000 acts of violence or disruption at abortion clinics in North America.

22. Global warming already kills 150,000 every year.

23. In Kenya, bribery payments make up a third of the average household budget.

24. The world’s trade in illegal drugs is estimated to be worth around $400 billion – about the same as the world’s legal pharmaceutical industry.

25. A third of Americans believe aliens have landed on Earth.

26. More than 150 countries use torture.

27. Everyday, one in five of the world’s population – some 800 million people – go hungry.

28. Black men born in the US today stand a one in three chance of going to jail.

29. A third of the world’s population is at war.

30. The world’s oil reserves could be exhausted by 2040.

31. Eighty-two percent of the world’s smokers live in developing countries.

32. Britons buy 3 million items of clothing every year – an average of 50 pieces each. Most of which end up being thrown away.

33. A quarter of the world’s armed conflicts of recent years have involved a struggle for natural resources.

34. Some 30 million people in Africa are HIV-positive.

35. Ten languages die out every year.

36. More people die each year from suicide than in all world’s armed conflicts.

37. Every week, an average of 54 children are expelled from American schools for bringing a gun to class.

38. There are at least 300,000 prisoners of conscience in the world.

39. Two million girls and women are subjected to female genital mutilation each year.

40. There are 300,000 child soldiers fighting conflicts around the world.

41. Nearly 26 million people voted in 2001 British General Election. More than 32 million votes were cast in the first season of Pop Idol.

42. One in six English teenagers believe that reality television will make them famous.

43. In 2005, the US spent $554 billion on its military. This is 29 times the combined military spending of the six “rogue states”.

44. There are 27 million slaves in the world today.

45. Americans discard 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour. That’s enough bottles to reach all the way to the moon every three weeks.

46. The average urban Briton is caught on camera up to 300 times a day.

47. Some 120,000 women and girls are trafficked into Western Europe every year.

48. A kiwi fruit flown from New Zealand to Britain emits five times its own weight in greenhouse gases.

49. The US owes the United Nations more than $1 billion in unpaid dues.

50. Children living in poverty are three times more likely to suffer a mental illness than children from wealthy families.