The Dhammapada exploration – part 19: The just/the judge

It’s Sunday, so it’s time to catch up on our Dhammapada reading! Buddhism gives some advice on judging, and as we’ve learned earlier, prejudice is particularly frowned upon. But Buddhism never goes into the “hey man, don’t judge!” hippie territory either. Instead, you should reflect on the proper things and in the proper way before reaching judgment on something or someone.

Now what are these proper ways? Let’s have a look.

256. Not by passing arbitrary judgments does a man become just; a wise man is he who investigates both right and wrong.

257. He who does not judge others arbitrarily, but passes judgment impartially according to the truth, that sagacious man is a guardian of law and is called just.

Continue reading “The Dhammapada exploration – part 19: The just/the judge”

As AI absorbs your life’s data, how do you feel?

Humanity has started down a new road in its history and those of us alive today get to watch it unfold. Companies like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon and to some degree Apple are now beginning to train their artificial intelligence systems on your data. Data from real people, available for the first time in the vast amounts that are useful to AI programmers.

First attempts might be clumsy. Cortana might direct you to a Thai massage parlor that smells of smegma from ten meters away, when all you wanted was some Thai-Italian fusion food. But as you complain about bad results, Cortana learns and improves, her data size increases, the next results will be better.

Free comes without freedom

Have you wondered how Google can afford to give you unlimited storage for all your photos in original resolution for free? Storage costs money, data centers suck up huge amounts of electricity and some person or robot has to change failing hard drives and monitor the hardware and services. This might be offered for free to you, but it’s not free for Google. So what do they gain? Pictures taken by real people, plus GPS data about where the picture was taken, and thanks to the high-accuracy sensors in their new phone, Google knows the pitch, tilt and yaw of your phone when you took the picture. It gets placed into a sort of 3D collage of the world, owned by them, not you.

Continue reading “As AI absorbs your life’s data, how do you feel?”

The Dhammapada exploration – part 18: Impurities

This chapter mostly stresses the importance of removing impurities. These mostly come in the form of temptation to let yourself go a bit too much. Don’t give in to them! How this is done, that differs between each Buddhist practice, but it’s mostly reflection and observation of mind-phenomena (as usual, if you’ve been reading this series you should begin to see a pattern here).

235. Like a withered leaf are you now; death’s messengers await you. You stand on the eve of your departure, yet you have made no provision for your journey!

236. Make an island for yourself! Strive hard and become wise! Rid of impurities and cleansed of stain, you shall enter the celestial abode of the Noble Ones.

237. Your life has come to an end now; You are setting forth into the presence of Yama, the king of death. No resting place is there for you on the way, yet you have made no provision for the journey!

At the moment of your death, death-god Yama (who looks kick-ass with his swollen face and skull-crown, by the way, grarrrrgh) takes you, and lo, you don’t have anything. You’re not prepared! You didn’t do the right things, you never reflected, you were sloppy, you have no provisions! Feel silly now, eh?

238. Make an island unto yourself! Strive hard and become wise! Rid of impurities and cleansed of stain, you shall not come again to birth and decay.

You can escape the wheel of Samsara, and this tiny concise sentence basically tells you all you need to know about how that’s done. Too bad the real challenge lies in the doing.

239. One by one, little by little, moment by moment, a wise man should remove his own impurities, as a smith removes his dross from silver.

240. Just as rust arising from iron eats away the base from which it arises, even so, their own deeds lead transgressors to states of woe.

The latter at least can be observed first-hand. The impurities are at the heart of what causes this rust, and the rust eats away at you. If you remove the source of it, you will be better off. Remove the source of your anger, your impatience, your greed and your intolerance. That way, their negative effects cannot manifest themselves.

241. Non-repetition is the bane of scriptures; neglect is the bane of a home; slovenliness is the bane of personal appearance, and heedlessness is the bane of a guard.

The guard they mean here is really a guard, a person you hire to guard your house.

242. Unchastity is the taint in a woman; niggardliness is the taint in a giver. Taints, indeed, are all evil things, both in this world and the next.

Hmm, okay, now this one seems a bit mixed up to me. Thanissaro Bhikku, to the rescue! It’s alternative translation time:

In a woman, misconduct is an impurity. In a donor, stinginess. Evil deeds are the real impurities in this world & the next.

Oh. Okay. That’s slightly better.

243. A worse taint than these is ignorance, the worst of all taints. Destroy this one taint and become taintless, O monks!

Not just ignorance in general, but specifically also ignorance about the truth of suffering, the causes of suffering and the path to the cessation of suffering.

244. Easy is life for the shameless one who is impudent as a crow, is backbiting and forward, arrogant and corrupt.

245. Difficult is life for the modest one who always seeks purity, is detached and unassuming, clean in life, and discerning.

Yeah, ever wondered why that is so? The next few verses at least offer some sort of consolation.

246-247. One who destroys life, utters lies, takes what is not given, goes to another man’s wife, and is addicted to intoxicating drinks — such a man digs up his own root even in this world.

248. Know this, O good man: evil things are difficult to control. Let not greed and wickedness drag you to protracted misery.

I like the simile of “digging up one’s own root”.

249. People give according to their faith or regard. If one becomes discontented with the food and drink given by others, one does not attain meditative absorption, either by day or by night.

250. But he in who this (discontent) is fully destroyed, uprooted and extinct, he attains absorption, both by day and by night.

You can take this even further if you like. You can be content no matter what. In pouring rain or when being forced to wait 20 minutes for the next bus or when the cafeteria ran out of nigger heads again and you have to settle for a tartelette aux cerises. And it’s not about controlling all your emotions, crushing them like a tank. It’s about observing them as they arise and not letting them take hold of you.

I know you, Mara!

251. There is no fire like lust; there is no grip like hatred; there is no net like delusion; there is no river like craving.

These awesome similes again. They had a knack for good images back in the day.

252. Easily seen is the fault of others, but one’s own fault is difficult to see. Like chaff one winnows another’s faults, but hides one’s own, even as a crafty fowler hides behind sham branches.

The crafty fowler! I’m in simile heaven!

253. He who seeks another’s faults, who is ever censorious — his cankers grow. He is far from destruction of the cankers.

254. There is no track in the sky, and no recluse outside (the Buddha’s dispensation). Mankind delights in worldliness, but the Buddhas are free from worldliness. [19]

255. There is no track in the sky, and no recluse outside (the Buddha’s dispensation). There are no conditioned things that are eternal, and no instability in the Buddhas.

 

This is a series of articles I’m doing on one of the basic Buddhist texts, the Dhammapada. Read the rest of the articles in this series.

Diary of a year of not buying video games (or books): Conclusion

About 9 months ago, I stopped buying games because I had a huge pile of unplayed ones already, like most gamers. I told myself I won’t be buying any more games for a year, to finish what I already have, and to decide what I don’t even want to play. 9 months in I broke my vow when prices for used Playstation 3 stuff hit their lowest point yet and it became clear to me that missing this opportunity wouldn’t be wise, so I stopped my challenge and bought a PS3 with piles of games to last me years. You can read all the details month-by-month here.

In numbers, I’ve played somewhere around 40 games, finishing about a dozen and discarding or shelving the rest. But I also added 43 new games to my wishlist. In the old days, these 42 games would have been immediately purchased and added to my existing queue of 100-something titles. Horrible to think of that now. Instead, I have a physical pile of PS3 games that goes up to my hip to worry about. Much better!

I learned a lot, and I believe I can condense it into a few paragraphs of hints for those addicted to game purchases. And I’m saying game purchases, not necessarily playing. Some of these games sat for ages in my library until I finally stopped buying new ones and actually played them. Is it the same for you? Then read on.

Continue reading “Diary of a year of not buying video games (or books): Conclusion”

Diary of a year of not buying video games (or books): September 2016

Last month I told you about my magical rediscovery of console gaming. I had been so focused on PC that I had completly ignored entire generations of console games. I got cut off at the early days of the Wii. Now what I discovered was:

  1. I really enjoy the Wii titles that have a childlike appearance but some tough core gameplay. All those colors! Super Mario Galaxy! It’s not just grey and brown and somber like the PC titles are sometimes.
  2. I don’t know even half the good titles that came out for the Game Cube, and there are some unique ones there.
  3. I’ve missed most of the good PS2 stuff, and all of the good PS3 stuff.
  4. Guitar Hero was real fun. Why did I stop playing Guitar Hero? Why did I never pick up Rock Band and the drum set?

All of these needed to be remedied. So in a very desperate move, I dug into the PS3 scene just as the PS3 is dying. Dying or dead consoles are the best for collecting, and I’d put this under the heading “collecting”. Once they’re no longer popular, you can get used games for single-digit prices. Some of them are even collections. I bought God of War 1 – 5 in a big set for USD 12, for example, and that’s the remastered HD edition for PS3.

Continue reading “Diary of a year of not buying video games (or books): September 2016”

The Dhammapada exploration – part 16: Affection/dear ones

Coming to this chapter of the Dhammapada, I have to reiterate that it’s always good to look at multiple translations of Buddhist texts. In this series I usually use the Buddharakkhita one, but Access to Insight also hosts the one by Thanissaro Bhikku. The differences in translation can be pretty profound sometimes.

One example that fucked stuff up a little for Buddhism in the west is the difference between non-aggression and love. The Pali term metta is used for an active kind of well-feeling, loving-kindness towards others, and it’s often translated as love. Christian commentators of the new times also make use of the word “love”, but in my mind they pervert what is meant.

Continue reading “The Dhammapada exploration – part 16: Affection/dear ones”