About

My name, Jayarava (जयरव, Shènghǎn), 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 was born and lived in New Zealand until 2002, when I moved to Cambridge, UK. I taught myself Pāli, have audited classes in Sanskrit at Cambridge University, and muddle through in Buddhist Middle Chinese. I've also dabbled in various art forms, including music, painting, photography, and calligraphy.

Since 2005, I've written around 550 essays for this website. My scholarly writing has appeared in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics, the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, Contemporary Buddhism, and the Western Buddhist Review. I've written books on the Kālāma Sutta, mantra calligraphy, and Sanskrit names. (See Publications for details). My book about Karma & Rebirth is now on sale. I am writing 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 accompanies most essays, or under the general Bibliography tab.
Websites: jayarava.org | visiblemantra.org | visiblemantra blog 
Social Media: Twitter | Instagram 
Scholarly Media: Academia.edu | ORCID | ResearchGate
Contributions to Digital Dictionary of Buddhism.

I'm also on Facebook, but only use it for family and friends IRL.



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. 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.

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.

2019. Interview with Michael Taft of Deconstructing Yourself Podcast.  The Pāli Suttas, Buddhist History, Karma, pluralism, and of course the Heart Sutra.



"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. So along with substance monism I accept structure pluralism. 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 as dialectical naturalism. My views are similar to those of Hasok Chang's philosophy of pragmatic realism, and to a lesser extent to Sean Carroll's poetic naturalism (Carroll apparently accepts reductionism as the ultimate paradigm)

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 no 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 emphatically reject all forms of utopian fantasy. We will never live in perfect societies and there will always be room for improvement and change as our circumstances change. There is no one right way to organise a society, even if there are some shared principles that limit what constitutes a healthy society.

I follow the website Political Compass in separating economic and social attitudes in describing the political landscape. Economically, I am on the left since I believe that government has to actively use its power to protect citizens. This means that the state should ensure that everyone receives a good education and healthcare. The government should support those who cannot support themselves. In general this means relatively high taxation. You cannot have a good society where people are unwilling to contribute financially.

The government should also play a role in protecting citizens from economic exploitation by unscrupulous corporations. In general corporations seem to behave like sociopaths, happy to destroy lives and the ecosystem to achieve their goals and this means that they have to be regulated and policed, in the same way that people are.

I also think that capitalism is inevitable and I don't agree with most anti-capitalist rhetoric. However the predominant form of capitalism today—inspired by neoclassical liberalism or just neoliberalism—is toxic, exploitative, and literally threatening the survival of our species. This has to stop. On the other hand a command economy—in which the government plays a heavy handed role in determining what is produced and in what quantity—is doomed to fail. Individuals must be free to engage in productive economic activity and if this is true the the bell curve dictates that some will be more successful than others.

My social attitudes lean towards the rights and duties of the individual. I see much less role for government in regulating the behaviour of individuals. As adults we should be able to make our own decisions and live with the consequences. And we should be preparing our children to take responsibility for their actions as adults.

Thus according to political compass I'm a "libertarian socialist". American libertarians who tend to be on the extreme right economically cannot understand this nomenclature.

Amongst all of this I'm also 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, these are some of the labels which I would assent to.
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 with the orthodoxy on many matters of belief and doctrine. However, I maintain my commitment to membership of the Order and the associated community on the basis of long-standing friendships with other members (none of whom have hit the headlines). 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

“Here am I who have written on all sorts of subjects calculated to excite hostility, moral, political, and religious, and yet I have no enemies — except, indeed, all the Whigs, all the Tories, and all the Christians.”
—David Hume.

"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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