26 September 2008

One hundred raves!

This is my 100th post on this blog. My original intention three years ago was to write weekly, relatively informal, 1000 word essays on subjects which were on my mind at the time. The idea grew out of my friendship with Pema Yutso (aka Ann Palomo). Pema became interested in Buddhism after we met, and over the years I had written a number of lengthy rants on various aspects of the Dharma in emails to her.

I began blogging many years ago manually updating my first website most days, and made it more formal by opening a Blogger account early in 2003. I also started using a blog to spread news about the FWBO which has now grown into the FWBO News (fwbo-news.org) edited by Lokabandhu. After I was ordained in 2005 I started a Jayarava blog and began with off the cuff rants and raves about whatever was on my mind - hence Jayarava Rave. The first of these, on 26th of Nov 2005, was a diatribe against the term hīnayana which I subsequently edited a little, but I still stand by it. Hīnayāna has caste-ist overtones and must have been a heinous label in it's day.

Subsequently I have pursued a rather eclectic course. I have frequently written on aspects of Early Buddhism and the Pāli texts. Mahāyana has occupied me less often, but aspects of mantra/tantra do feature quite strongly. I suppose this interest might seem perverse - in my experience it is unusual to be interested in both of these subjects while not being that interested in Mahāyāna. I can't justify this. It's not a thought out policy, but simply reflects my likes and dislikes, my biases. A feature of my tantric raves was a series on the various tantric rites. I still have to write the final essay on the chenka rite. I also have thought about writing on the abhiṣeka as ur-rite in Tantra.

Some of the more specific areas that I've written about repeatedly are the 9th century tantric master Kūkai, and the Arapacana alphabet. My fascination with Kūkai is deep and on going. Behind the scenes I have written a biography of his life, and have studied each of his works in translation. I hope that my introduction to Kūkai and his thinking might one day see the light of day. I'm particularly pleased with my attempts to popularise the findings of Prof. Richard Salomon on the Arapacana alphabet. It has been both fun and fascinating to read his papers and see this mystery solved. It may be years before his research makes its way into general books about Buddhism - there is so far no sign of it as far as I am aware. I have used his research as a jumping off point to follow this alphabet in it's journey through Buddhist texts across the years. This will form one chapter of my book on mantra, although I'm considering trying to rewrite a summary for publication in a journal at some point.

One thing I've tried to do here is to write about contemporary scholarship that has not yet become mainstream. The work of Prof. Salomon is an obvious example but I've also written a number of review articles. I drew attention to Jan Nattier's brilliant and insightful article on the Heart Sūtra, for instance, which solves the mystery of the origins of this enigmatic sutra. I've also written about Sue Hamilton's book on Early Buddhism and the khandhas; and have explored several issues raised by Prof. Richard Gombrich about the context of the Buddha's teaching.

Another aspect of my writing, one which is perhaps a little under represented even, is linguistics. It was my interest in mantra that lead me to study linguistics. A lot of what is written about mantra is written by linguists. Vedic mantra seems a more lively discipline and so I ended up reading quite a lot about that, and in any case the foundations of Buddhist mantra lie in the Vedic tradition. I find that pragmatists write more engagingly about mantra than semanticists, and this lead me to investigate pragmatism, and thence to George Lakoff and his ideas about linguistic categorisation and metaphor. Lakoff has appeared only twice in my subject headings (or labels as Blogger calls them), but his writing has had a profound influence on mine. More recently I wrote about the work of Benjamin Lee Whorf which I think we Buddhists should pay close attention to.

Much of the writing above is more to do with my intellectual interests than my actual Buddhist practice. I have had less to say on practical matters. I think my approach to the Six Perfections is useful. But the focus of my personal practice is in the area of Buddhist psychology and ethics. Reflections on the workings of the mind are very much alive for me. One question has been occupying me for some time now: "what is it that arises in dependence on causes?" It has become clear to me that dependent arising is aimed at our cognitive processes rather than being a description of the world. I tend now to conceive of the Buddhist project as epistemological rather than ontological. The Buddhist project is to correctly understand our experience - experience itself is impermanent and disappointing (in the final analysis). As I say in my essay on Whorf this is much harder than it sounds, and I am convinced that meditation is the key tool for making the breakthrough.

In technical terms blogging has come a long way with easy blogging tools like Blogger. I like Blogger and have no plans to move on. Jayarava Rave is easy to publish and entirely free! I think the greatest development was my adoption of Unicode. By choosing a Unicode font (I tend to use Times Ext Roman) in my browser and creating a keyboard map I was suddenly able to type diacritics without much effort in any application on my computer. Mine you, this has meant that I now misspell words in a variety of languages! However I am convinced that it is better to use diacritics when spelling Sanskrit and Pāli.

I want to say thanks to all my readers over the years. The site gets about 1100 visits a month at the moment, which is not exactly the big-time on the internet, but it is quite satisfactory. Appreciative comments are starting to come more regularly now. Apart from trying to clarify my own thinking, the main purpose of this blog is to reach out to others and share my ideas.

I'll be on holiday when this post gets published (courtesy of Blogger's scheduling function). Hopefully I'll be relaxing on a beach in Cornwall when you read this. Despite having attended many retreats in England, I've never really had a proper holiday, so I'm looking forward to it! Thanks again. See you in cyberspace!

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