buddha’s innovation

Today’s selection — from Buddha by Karen Armstrong. After practicing the asceticism of the holy men of his time and reflecting on a formative ‘Nirvana’ moment he had years before under a rose-apple tree, Siddhartha Gotama, the Buddha rejects pure asceticism for a middle way:

“Since he had left home six years before, Gotama had been fighting his human nature and crushing its every impulse. He had come to distrust any kind of pleasure. But, he now asked himself, why should he be afraid of the type of joy he had experienced on that long-ago afternoon? That pure delight had had nothing to do with greedy craving or sensual desire. Some joyful experiences could actually lead to an abandonment of egotism and to the achievement of an exalted yogic state. …
aesthetic Buddha
Buddha of the middle way
“He had, of course, already been behaving along these lines by observing the ‘five prohibition’s’ which had forbidden such ‘unhelpful’ (akusala) activities as violence, lying, stealing, intoxication, and sex. But now, he realized, this was not enough. He must cultivate the positive attitudes that were the opposite of these five restraints. Later, he would say that a person seeking enlightenment must be ‘energetic, resolute and persevering’ in pursuing those ‘helpful,’ ‘wholesome’ or ‘skillful’ (kusala) states that would promote spiritual health. Ahimsa (harmlessness) could only take one part of the way; instead of simply avoiding violence, an aspirant must behave gently and kindly to everything and everyone; he must cultivate thoughts of loving-kindness to counter any incipient feelings of ill will. It was very important not to tell lies, but it was also crucial to engage in ‘right talk’ and make sure that whatever you said was worth saying: ‘reasoned, accurate, clear and beneficial.’ Besides refraining from stealing, a bhikkhushould positively rejoice in taking whatever alms he was given, expressing no personal preference, and should take delight in possessing the bare minimum. The yogins had always maintained that avoiding the five prohibitions would lead to ‘infinite happiness,’ but by deliberately cultivating these positive states of mind, such exstasis could surely be redoubled. Once this ‘skillful’ behavior became so habitual that it was second nature, the aspirant, Gotama believed, would ‘feel within himself a pure joy,’ similar to if not identical with the bliss that he had felt as a boy under the rose-apple tree. …
“Gotama was developing what he called a ‘Middle Way,’ which shunned physical and emotional self-indulgence on the one hand, and extreme asceticism (which could be just as destructive) on the other.”
Buddha (Penguin Lives Biographies)

Author: Karen Armstrong
Publisher: Penguin Books
Copyright Karen Armstrong, 2001
Pages 69-71

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we are blind to our blindness

In today’s encore excerpt — from Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. We only have the capacity to focus on a limited number of things at a given moment — in essence we have a limited budget which we can only allocate so far. So sometimes when we concentrate on one thing, we are often completely blind to other things — even if it is a woman dressed in a gorilla suit right in front of us:
“The often-used phrase ‘pay attention’ is apt: you dispose of a limited budget of attention that you can allocate to activities, and if you try to go beyond your budget, you will fail. It is the mark of effortful activities, that they interfere with each other, which is why it is difficult or impossible to conduct several at once. You could not compute the product of 17 x 24 while making a left turn into dense traffic, and you certainly should not try. You can do several things at once, but only if they are easy and unde­manding. You are probably safe carrying on a conversation with a passenger while driving on an empty highway, and many parents have discovered, perhaps with some guilt, that they can read a story to a child while thinking of something else.
“Everyone has some awareness of the limited capacity of attention, and our social behavior makes allowances for these limitations. When the driver of a car is overtaking a truck on a narrow road, for example, adult passen­gers quite sensibly stop talking. They know that distracting the driver is not a good idea, and they also suspect that he is temporarily deaf and will not hear what they say.
selective attention test
selective attention test
“Intense focusing on a task can make people effectively blind, even to stimuli that normally attract attention. The most dramatic demonstration was offered by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons in their book The Invisible Gorilla. They constructed a short film of two teams passing basket­balls, one team wearing white shirts, the other wearing black. The viewers of the film are instructed to count the number of passes made by the white team, ignoring the black players. This task is difficult and completely ab­sorbing. Halfway through the video, a woman wearing a gorilla suit appears, crosses the court, thumps her chest, and moves on. The gorilla is in view for 9 seconds.
“Many thousands of people have seen the video, and about half of them do not notice anything unusual. It is the counting task — and especially the instruction to ignore one of the teams — that causes the blindness. No one who watches the video without that task would miss the gorilla. Seeing and orienting are automatic functions of System 1, but they depend on the allocation of some attention to the relevant stimulus. The authors note that the most remarkable observation of their study is that people find its results very surprising. Indeed, the viewers who fail to see the gorilla are initially sure that it was not there — they cannot imagine missing such a striking event. The gorilla study illustrates two important facts about our minds: we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.”
Thinking, Fast and Slow

Author: Daniel Kahneman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Copyright 2011 by Daniel Kahneman
Pages 23-24

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to delegate or not to delegate

Today’s selection — from The Miles Davis Quintet by Bob Gluck. Most organizational management styles fall into roughly two camps: those managers that manage very closely, dictating each decision and keeping very close tabs on each detail, and those managers that are more inclined to delegate and give their subordinates freedom and latitude. Miles Davis, perhaps the most revered and successful jazz musician of the twentieth century, fell into the latter camp. His energies were directed at finding the very finest musicians he could possibly find — in fact a huge number of his band members went on to become legends themselves — and then giving them the space to explore and create:

“He was at the time a nondirective bandleader. Members of his quintet were given wide latitude to play what they wished. The ‘just going places’ ethic noted by Corea was pregnant with possibilities, opening tremendous space for unan­ticipated musical creativity. Corea observes that Davis’s method was focused on the choice of musicians:
Miles … was a chemist — a spiritual chemist — as far as putting musicians together, because he himself didn’t really compose tunes that much, although he developed styles and arrangements but he chose musicians that went together a way that he heard and that he liked. And he went from this piano player to that piano player or from this drummer to that drummer — he chose these guys so that it went together in a way that he heard it. And I guess that’s leadership, you know, it’s like the choosing of the way and the treatment of the group.
The 2nd great quintet: Wayne Shorter,  Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams
“In a 1969 DownBeat interview with Larry Kart, Corea relates that in their first conversation, Davis told him about how to interpret Shorter’s compositions: ‘I don’t know what else to tell you except that we’ll go and play, but whatever you think it is, that’s what it is.’ Hancock remembers Davis’s leadership of the previous quintet in a similar way. He explains in a 1971 DownBeat interview:
“With Miles’ band we were all allowed to play what we wanted to play and shaped the music according to the group effort and not to the dictates of Miles, because he really never dictated what he wanted. I try to do the same thing with my group. I think it serves this function that I just mentioned ­– that everybody feels that they’re part of the product, you know, and not just contributing something to somebody else’s music. They may be my tunes, but the music belongs to the guys in the band. They make the music — it’s not just my thing.”
The Miles Davis Lost Quintet and Other Revolutionary Ensembles

Author: Bob Gluck
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press

2016 by The university Of Chicago Press, Ltd., London

Page 14
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