About

My name, Jayarava (जयरव 勝鳴 Shèngmíng), means: "Cry, shout, or roar of victory". I have a B.Sc in chemistry and a Post Graduate Diploma in Librarianship. I'm a Dharmacārin (धर्मचारिन् 法行者Fǎxíng zhě), i.e. a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order (त्रिरत्नबौद्दमहासघ). I taught myself Pāli, have audited classes in Sanskrit at Cambridge University, and bluff my way in Buddhist Middle Chinese. I've also dabbled in various art forms, including music, painting, photography, and calligraphy. I was born and lived in New Zealand until 2002, when I moved to Cambridge, UK. 

Since 2005, I've written around 500 essays for this website. My scholarly writing has appeared in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics, the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, and the Western Buddhist Review. I've written books on the Kālāma Sutta, mantra calligraphy, and Sanskrit names. (See Publications for details). I'm currently working on a book about Karma and Rebirth and planning another on the Heart Sutra.

If you want to contact me, email me at [my name]@gmail.com. Comments on these essays are off for the foreseeable future. Almost no one actually reads the essays carefully enough and most questions are best addressed by reading the texts in the bibliography that goes with most essays or under the general Bibliography tab.
Websites: jayarava.org | visiblemantra.org | visiblemantra blog |
Social Media: Google+ | @jayarava | Instagram | Flickr |
Scholarly Media: Academia.edu | ORCID | ResearchGate
I'm also on Facebook, but only use it for family and real life friends.



This blog started life as a series of long emails to my friend Pema in Cleveland, Ohio. She was a new Buddhist and I was explaining my thoughts on some Buddhist themes. Having got started, I realised that I had a lot of things to say and enjoyed writing them down.

The emphasis of the blog changes depending on my interests at the time. The main themes are etymology and the history of language; textual interpretation and criticism, especially the Pāli suttas; the history of ancient India, and particularly the history of ideas with respect to Buddhism; and the integration of Buddhism with contemporary Western Culture, with an emphasis on science. More recently I have found a way into Western Philosophy that works and have been exploring this. 

The first posts were casual, off the cuff comments, limited to 1000 words, but as time has gone on I have aimed for more rigour, dropped the word limit and introduced the use of footnotes and references. Most of my essays now are long reads in the order of 5000 words. I also use Twitter so can be concise at times. These days I'm wrestling with major intellectual issues and I don't think anyone is served by yet more superficial analysis, so I write for clarity but also depth. 


Interviews

2012: Interview with Ted Meissner of The Secular Buddhist. We talked about lots of stuff but especially karma, rebirth, and my brand of pragmatic Buddhism.

Nov 2015: Interview with Matthew O'Connell of Imperfect Buddha Podcast, again talking about karma and rebirth, my work on these subjects has moved on considerably in the last two years as work on my book progresses. I wrote a companion essay for this interview: In Conversation about Karma and Rebirth.



"If you don't like these ideas, I have others."
Marshall McLuhan

Views

I'm frequently called Materialist, but this is inaccurate. I am certainly a Rationalist and an Antiromantic. I'm convinced by claims for a substance monist ontology, but I would describe my view as substance-reductionist and structure-antireductionist. I reject any kind of supernatural entity or force on evidential grounds, and I'm thus some kind of Naturalist. Hegel's philosophy involved the idea of the synthesis of a thesis and it's antithesis, the process of which he called a dialectic. So my view might be described a dialectical naturalism.

Epistemologically, I would say that Transcendental Idealism describes the situation of the individual who cannot compare notes: there is a mind-independent reality, but we have no direct access to it and generalising from experience is seldom valid. However, I argue that empiricism combined with comparing notes enables us to make accurate and precise inferences about the real nature of mind-independent objects and structures. Let's call this position Collective Empirical Realism (not to be confused with the collective delusion known ironically as consensus reality).

The view that there is no afterlife is frequently mislabelled Nihilism. I am not a nihilist. I find meaning everywhere. Just as I find the values of justice and fairness compelling despite not accepting the Just-World Fallacy. The opposite of nihilism is existentialism, so I'm some kind of existentialist. The traditional term for the view that there is not afterlife is ucchedavāda, meaning "the doctrine of being cut off (at death)". I'll put my hand up to being an ucchedavādin, which is technically a micchādiṭṭhi. However, it is now beyond any reasonable doubt that there is no afterlife (sorry) and that the world is not inherently just. In other words there is no karma or rebirth, so the ucchedavādin position is the only viable one and we just have to live with it. On the other hand, I find this makes human life more precious and more meaningful, not less. Also it seems to create a greater need for voluntary ethical behaviour without external compulsion. It really is all up to us. Our choices determine the kind of world we live in. I suppose we can call this a species of Humanism.

So am I a materialist? No, I'm a substance/structure dialectical naturalist—collective empirical realist—existentialist—humanist.

Politically, I am probably best described as a Libertarian Socialist. Not quite an anarchist, but well to the left of virtually all political parties and against central control of individuals, though acknowledging that we are a social species with a preference for defined hierarchies. This view may be exacerbated by having ended up living in a relatively right-wing, strongly hierarchical, authoritarian society after having grown up in a socialist, egalitarian, liberal democracy. I'm in favour of democratic government (though I think this is seldom found in reality) and of government regulation of business to protect the populous from the powerful and dishonest who seek to exploit them. I'm implacably opposed to what is termed Neoliberalism - actually a kind of right-wing Ultra-libertarianism for the 1% and Ultra-authoritarianism for the 99%, designed to transfer the wealth of the 99% to the 1% (and very efficient for this purpose). See #fuckneoliberalism on Twitter. I occasionally blog on Fuck Neoliberalism as well and on economics generally. I think chapter one of The Communist Manifesto continues to be a relevant, if not entirely accurate, critique of what I would not term Merchantilism. I do not advocate class struggle per se or revolution. So I'm not a communist. However the bourgeoisie of the developed world are waging a revolutionary class war against workers, with a view to extending their control and exploitation of those who labour for a living. I think this is evil.

I'm a Buddhist, despite disagreeing with traditional Buddhist articles of faith, because I see value in the practices and attitudes associated with the Buddha. So for me Buddhism is more of a methodology than a useful ontology or epistemology. I believe it is possible to radically restructure the mind in beneficial ways through Buddhist practices. To me Buddhism is largely about what Buddhists do in the context of a Buddhist community, as a result of their identification with Buddhism. The only necessary belief, is to believe that one is a Buddhist. Everything else is negotiable, though I do not deny that many Buddhists still find value in more traditional expressions of Buddhist faith, I personally find most of them far too implausible to be viable. The different sects of Buddhism are so complex and contradictory that a coherent definition which includes all of them boils down to something like my definition in any case.

To sum up:
Libertarian socialist—Buddhist—substance/structure-dialectical naturalist—collective empirical realist—existentialist—humanist. 




Triratna Buddhist Order

I'm a member of the sometimes controversial Triratna Buddhist Order. I too have my complaints about how some members of our Order have behaved at times. And I disagree on my matters of belief and doctrine. However, I maintain my commitment to membership of the Order and the associated community. I've written some essays to help clarify my understanding of the Order. These are my personal views:
Triratna Buddhist Order 15 January 2010. A note on the name change. 
Triratna Buddhist Order & Community. 02 July 2010. Structure and function of the movement.  
Ordination : a contested term. 18 September 2009. Some thoughts on the meaning of the word and how it is used. A critique of Buddhist use and the establishment it is generally associated with. 
Why I am (Still) A Buddhist. 06 July 2012
Nāmapada: a guide to names in the Triratna Buddhist Order. 07 January 2011. Blurb for my book on Order names.



QUOTES

"Our relation to the world is not that of a thinker to an object of thought"
—Merleau Ponty, Maurice. (1964) The Primacy of Perception and Its Philosophical Consequences, in The Primacy of Perception. (James M. Edie, ed.) Northwestern University Press. (p. 12)

"In science you must not talk before you know. In art you must not talk before you do. In literature you must not talk before you think."
—John Ruskin. The Eagle's Nest. 1872.

“Memories beautify life, but only forgetting makes it bearable.”
—Honoré de Balzac

“We know that people can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers.”
—Daniel Kahneman

"The ontological subjectivity of the domain [of consciousness] does not prevent us from having an epistemically objective science of that domain."
—John Searle.

"Meaning is use."
—Wittgenstein. Philosophical Investigations.

"Nullius in verba - Accept nothing on authority".
—The Royal Society Motto

"Philology is the art of reading slowly"
—Roman Jakobson

"Scholarship is an ongoing dialectical process."
—Michael Witzel

"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts."
—Richard Feynman. "What is Science?"
The Physics Teacher. Vol. 7, issue 6 (1969)


Sapere aude! – Dare to know!
(motto for the Enlightenment)
—Immanuel Kant."Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?" (Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment?) 1784.

"Science—knowledge—only adds to the excitement, the mystery, and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts."
—Richard Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.

"If happiness consisted in the pleasures of the body, we should call oxen happy whenever they come across bitter vetch to eat."
—Heraclitus. Fragment.

"The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose."
—William Shakespeare. Merchant of Venice. Act 1, Scene 3.

"There is now no safer occupation than talking bad science to philosophers, except talking bad philosophy to scientists."
—Midgley, Mary. 1979. 'Gene-juggling'. Philosophy. 54(210): 439-458.

“The system protects itself with indignation against a challenge to deceit in the service of power, and the very idea of subjecting the ideological system to rational inquiry elicits incomprehension or outrage, though it is often masked in other terms.”
Noam Chomsky

“We know that people can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers.”
—Daniel Kahneman

"I'd rather have questions that cannot be answered, than answers that cannot be questioned."
—Richard Feynman.
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