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Letter 8 from Eric Arnow                               Arnow Letter Index

Eric Arnow link page

Eric Arnow has his own web site now. For years I've been putting his letters from Asia here. From now on they'll go on his site, the Bumble Buddhist which also now has all the previous ones from cuke and photos more. - dc

Date: Fri, 11 Feb 2005
From: Eric Arnow <>
Subject: What religion are you?

What religion are you? Are you a breather?  Me, too.

For some reason, perhaps because I notice a missionary presence here in Thailand, I ask what is the basis for religion in a society.

Forgive me in advance if what I write offends, it is simply my observation based on experience.  While in Pai, I noticed a fair number of Westerners on Christmas Eve.

Never raised as a Christian, I have no impulse to celebrate. But I think of the various things about Jesus life, some through the courtesy of a Mormon friend who invited me to his house for dinner several times and invited me to watch a video on Christ’s life and to attend Church.  After a series of go arounds , I finally put it this way, “look, I don’t ask you to go to meditation retreats, so please be happy with your practise as I am happy with mine"

Shepherd  Bliss once invited me to attend a book reading at his house. He is the heir to a long line of military leaders mostly from the South, one of whom has Fort Bliss named after him. Shepherd has made a number of evolutionary leaps, and at the time was an organic fruit and berry grower in West Sonoma County.

The book was called the Spell of the Sensuous, by David Abram. The thesis of the book is that there is a way of being in the world that is so immediate that every day experience is “spiritual.”  He gave the example of the word “Yahweh”, the Hebrew word for God, and asserts that Yahweh is actually the vocalization of the in-and-out breath.  This was thrilling but not a jaw dropper for me, because, as a young Zen student at Tassajara in 1972, while wrestling with my Jewish identity, it dawned on me that the central prayer of Judaism, “Hear Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One”, was not an assertion of a religious doctrine alone, but on a more subtle level was in fact, A MEDITATION INSTRUCTION using mindfulness of hearing, just like the Zen Master Hakuin’s

'Listen for the sound of one hand clapping’

Last year, I got into an email exchange with a Muslim, who was depressed about the state of things, as is certainly understandable, with the hostility exhibited towards Muslims, those of whom I have met to be quite gentle.

So I suggested the following exercise. Go to a quiet room, sit down, watch your breathing, and as you breath in , think. Ahh…and as you breathe out, think …..Lah.

Ahh..Lah…Ah…Lah. Now this is the same idea as breathing in Yah, and breathing out Weh, or breathing in Bu…and breathing out Toh--Thai for Bu-ddha (one of the main forms of Buddhist meditation here in Thailand), or the simple breathing in and breathing out Muuuu…… practiced in Zen.

He responded excitedly and said, “Yes that is a practise we do, how did you know this…you must be Muslim." I assured him that I wasn’t but that it works the same for everyone. It is  bringing mindfulness to the breathing process that opens our life up, but people get attached to the particular word used, attribute something more than the immediate “isness” of it, and then get into sectarian and inter religious disputes over what constitutes “Reality.”

So here is a simple exercise to determine what religion you are. IF one sees that the center of all existence is  a Supreme Being, type sky God that brings us eternal life,

Or whatever doctrine suits one, just hold that thought. Then hold your nose and close your mouth, and within a minute you will quickly see what your immediate priority is.

Personally, I believe in breathing. Especially with attentive mindfulness whenever possible.

Any other form of mindfulness will do as well.

I observe that various doctrines hold that if one abandons that doctrine, BAD things will happen. My dear great Uncle Reuben, a Rabbi, was shocked when I told him I had stayed at a Zen Monastery, and warned me that I faced Spiritual Annihilation.

Some Christian ideologues say that unless we accept Jesus as our personal saviour, we will go to hell, and only a few who sincerely believe in Him exclusively will experience the Rapture.  A Muslim tract I got at a peace rally (no less!) warned that Allah is God and Mohammed is his prophet, and that to deny    this is to invite hell.

So which guy am I supposed to believe so as to avoid Hell?

Even one Buddhist meditation school I went to (and they gave a good course) says there is “Only One Way”, and one adherent of that style, while giving me instructions on Metta, or “Lovingkindess Meditation” provoked an argument with me because my style of meditation was not “correct.” Got that? Kept shoving his IDEA if what works at me while talking about lovingkindess.

This brings me to the issue of fragmentation, both psychological, spiritual and social.

 While at one temple. I observed that while  doing walking meditation, my mind was 10,000 miles away in the USA. This is fragmentation. Doing one thing while thinking something totally different. This was a somewhat humorous insight for me at the time, but when one considers where such fragmentation goes, remember

the statement by a soldier in Vietnam, “We had to destroy it in order to save it.”:Think 'Save'…Do 'Destroy'.

Or in Afghanistan, where we "freed" the Afghanis from the Taliban, notorious for oppression of women, yet many women were widowed and devastated by our bombs, and the drug war which we are so earnest in fighting has seen opium production increase 10 times over what it was when the Taliban made drug growing a crime. Not to mention poison it permanently with depleted Uranium, as documented in a Japanese sponsored "internation war crimes tribunal on Afghanistan" which indicted Bush for war crimes.

Fragmentation is another word for Cognative dissonance, where thinking and reality don’t mesh. At its extreme, it is neurosis and psychosis. Worried about terror?

Go to the Mall. Worried about terrorists? vote for the guy who took a month off a month before September 11th, ignoring a memo "Bin Laden poised to strike US soon". He didn't protect you then, but trust him, he will now. By infuriating a billion people who see his "protection" as a Crusade against them.

It is probably no accident that the program used for getting the viruses out of  your computer hard drive was developed by Ed Norton, who spent time in a Zen monastery.

My opinion is that true “religion” is not a belief system , but a “defragging/ virus cleaning program” for our mind and body. Since humans all have the same psychophysiological makeup, with breath the top priority, it didn’t matter where they lived, some discovered that mindful breathing and other mindfulness practices bring us into the present, which is really all we have to work with.   As we stop dividing our attention between our physical senses and our thinking minds, which are generally out of control (try following your breathing for a few minutes and you will find you lose track of it, unless you have done some serious training), we start to De-fragment and Re-integrate.

Now here is where it gets interesting. Look at the life of Jesus. 

What I saw was a man of great integrity, who kicked the Capitalists of his day, the moneychangers, out of the temple, and managed to piss off enough of the puppet government of the Roman empire that he got himself into a heap of trouble and got killed.

He said things like,  “The Kingdom of God is within you”

“Turn the stone and I am there”

“You listen but you do not hear…you look but you do not see”

Got it? He is talking about fragmentation. Don’t look outside for heaven, it is within you…….IF you look for it there.

One of the signs of progress in meditation practise according to the Theravada meditation schools here in Thailand, is the appearance of mental factors, such as joy and that loaded term Rapture.

Living in the mountains away from bad news and living simply, I started noticing that the Earth itself is in a state of Rapture. Butterflies, flowers, the chirping of the birds. Already. No need to look for anything else. Not only that, I was in a state of Rapture.

Why do people long for something that involves Armageddon?

While in Pai, I posed the following question to a fellow who invited me to go Carrolling. I said, “Assuming that God Created Heaven and Earth, why would He allow all the butterflies and flowers to be burned to a crisp so that a relative handful of people would follow his Son to Rapture? Wouldn’t God have a serious talk with his son about the advisability of such a plan., not to mention the justice of it?

Besides which we are all Children of God so that means that you too are the Son or Daughter

Which brings me to conclude that most religious leaders that do not emphasize the “defragging” aspect, and tell people to take a short cut relying on someone who did the hard work of defragging themselves, as the great prophets did, are on a very slippery slope to social control for political and economic purposes, and not salvation .

Don't believe me. Check this out for yourself.



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