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Lions Roar : September 2005
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2005 7 SHAMBHALA SUN BUDDHISM CULTURE MEDITATION LIFE Melvin McLeod, Editor-in-Chief Barry Campbell Boyce, Senior Editor Andrea McQuillin, Assistant Editor Jeff Pardy, Editorial Assistant Liza Matthews, Art Director & Associate Editor Jessica von Handorf, Associate Art Director & Production Coordinator Seth Levinson, Assistant Art Director James Gimian, Publisher Molly De Shong, Associate Publisher, Circulation, & Associate Editor Eric L. Ross, Associate Publisher, Advertising Debra Ross, Development Coordinator Alan Brush, Circulation Director Raymond Taavel, Fulfillment Manager Carol Millett, Circulation Coordinator Dan Carew, Customer Service Kenneth Swick, Bookkeeper Samuel Bercholz, Publishing Advisor Founder: Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1940-1987) President: Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche ADVERTISING INQUIRIES Steve Ritchie, Advertising Sales Toll-free: 1-866-436-3233 firstname.lastname@example.org Paul Laybolt, Advertising Assistant Toll-free: 1-877-786-1950, ext. 31 email@example.com EDITORIAL & CENTRAL BUSINESS OFFICE 1660 Hollis Street, Suite 603 Halifax, Nova Scotia B3J 1V7 Canada Tel: (902) 422-8404, Fax: (902) 423-2701 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org U.S . SUBSCRIPTION OFFICE 1345 Spruce St., Boulder, CO 80302-4886 TO SUBSCRIBE OR RENEW, call toll-free (877) 786-1950. TO SEE YOUR SUBSCRIPTION STATUS, visit the customer service area of our website: www.shambhalasun.com/customers/subs.asp M OV I NG ? Notify us six weeks in advance. We cannot be responsible for issues which the post office does not forward. On occasion, we make our subscriber names and addresses available to select organizations we feel will be of interest to our readers. If you would prefer that your name and mailing address not be used in this way con- tact us via one of the following: E-mail: subscriptions@ shambhalasun.com Mail: PO Box 3377 Champlain, NY 12919-9871 Fax: (902) 423-2701 Toll-free phone: 1-877 -786-1950 www.shambhalasun.com EDITORIAL • MELVIN MCLEOD The Ochre Lab Coat The Buddhist sangha is considered to be the oldest continuously functioning institution in human history. So what have these millions of monks, nuns, and lay practitioners been doing for the last 2,500 years? You could argue that they’ve been conducting the world’s longest-running scientific experiment. Buddhism postulates that certain practices and ways of living will, if done genuinely, in the service of non-ego, make you wiser, kinder, and more peaceful. As in any good scientific experi- ment, the results are verifiable and reproducible. While they’re not really quantifiable, I think it’s pretty clear that for more than two thousand years, the input of Buddhist practice and philosophy has consistently outputted an above average number of wise and compassionate people. What is the actual hypothesis Buddhists are testing? It’s called the four noble truths. Buddhists begin with the empirical observation that life is marked by suffering. They posit that the cause of suffering is our belief that we are solid and real, which creates painful friction with the truth that life is insubstantial and changing. They predict, therefore, that by ceasing to believe in this solid entity, or ego, suffering will diminish or even cease. Finally, they test this hypothesis by following the path that leads to the diminishment of ego—basically, wisdom, moral behavior, and compassion—and seeing if this does lessen suffering. Let’s compare this process to one definition of the scientific method, offered by Dr. Frank Wolfs of the University of Rochester: 1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena. Life is marked by suffering. 2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. Suffering is caused by belief in ego. 3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena. A state of non-suffering is achievable by ceasing to believe in ego. 4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments. Follow the eightfold path that lessens belief in ego. Observe whether it diminishes suffering for oneself and others. Repeat daily. Here’s another hypothesis I’d like to test. Science often looks for the common factor explaining certain phenomena—why people are getting sick from an unknown illness, for instance. The cause, when found, is considered to be the underlying reality. In this test, we examine the multitude of apparently diverse ethics, morals, codes of con- duct, and commandments that human beings hold. When we look at them closely, our ideas of right and wrong, with all their variations, all seem to come down to one thing: What’s right and good comes from selflessness and love for others. What’s bad and wrong is the result of selfishness and putting yourself before others. Almost all moral philosophers, from Moses to Ann Landers, seem to agree on this. So maybe good and bad, right and wrong, virtue and sin—all the moral dualisms—are just the concepts we attach to what is actually nonself and self, non-ego and ego. The test is to examine continually what’s at the root of our behavior. I’m betting that in the end it always comes down to selfishness versus selflessness, or ego versus non-ego. (But see “Meet the Three Lords of Materialism” in this issue to learn how tricky it is to know one from the other.) So beneath the language of religion and morality, maybe it’s just a simple equation, and a kind of science. Ego equals suffering, non-ego equals...well, that’s trickier, but something good. Call it Dr. Buddha’s first theorem. Testing started 2,500 years ago, and early results are excellent. © Disclaimer: Melvin McLeod has a B.A. in political science and acknowledges that he doesn’t know much about real science.