Mapping the jhana controversy

There is no jhāna for one who lacks insight, and no insight for one who lacks jhāna.

The Buddha, Dhammapada

This point is of considerable relevance to an understanding of the nature of absorption. The issue at stake, simply stated, is whether the first absorption is a deep state of concentration, achieved only after a prolonged period of practice and seclusion, or a stage of relaxed happy reflection within easy reach of anyone and without much need for meditative proficiency.

Bhikkhu Anālayo, Satipatthāna: The Direct Path to Realization

The problem*

It is quite alarming that we can’t definitively agree on what jhāna is. The story goes that after leaving the household life, the Buddha-to-be trained with two meditation teachers, Ālāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta, mastering the spheres of no-thingness and neither-perception-nor-non-perception under their respective guidance.… Continue reading...

AI, creativity, and self worth

I’ve been messing around with the Stable Diffusion AI image generator via Dream Studio. It’s quite mind-blowing. The image above was generated with the keywords, “One red eye cyborg concept art.” It creeps me out a bit, and I don’t actually like using it here that much. For better sci-fi pieces, check this algorithm-generated art. Anyway, after spending half an hour feeding keywords into this beast, I started to view my own impulses and thought patterns more objectively. I also began to think differently about my kids’ development, as they are clearly building experiential datasets and learn how to process them.

Seeing visual experience being generated to order, in a matter of seconds, raises the question of what is authentically real?… Continue reading...

What Elden Ring is teaching me about stoicism and perseverance

A lone swordsman approaches Stormveil Castle and the wind begins to howl.

On a ruined bridge high above the desolate Lands Between, Margit, the Fell Omen, stood between me and Stormveil Castle once again. The stakes were high: I’d spent £50 on a game months ago and a 20ft death-dealing guardian had seriously diverted my progress away from the main path. I had bounced off Dark Souls III after a similar experience. But this time I felt more confident. What had once seemed impossible was now a matter of persistence…

It may seem that From Software, the game’s designers, are straightforwardly sadistic. I mean why else would you place such a difficult boss right at the start of a game? We’re talking about a battle far tougher than the final scenes of many other games.… Continue reading...

Stoicism and parenting an autistic child

Nemesis in a Gale. H. J. Leathem, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Another school run, another test from the Stoic gods. I had just finished listening to The Stoic Test Challenge by William Irvine, as I drove through the narrow, winding lanes and up to the school where I took two attempts to reverse park under the disapproving gaze of an impatient mum. The Stoic test I had been expecting was underway.

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Irvine explains that the Stoic test is a way of reframing setbacks. Instead of bewailing our fortunes, we see problems as an opportunity to exercise Stoic values of resilience, resourcefulness, patience, and tranquility. We can then take satisfaction from how competently we resolve problems and, more importantly, how calm we remain while doing so. It is a wiser path to meaning and contentment than compensating for our hardships with pleasure, disgruntlement, and entitlement (none of which work).… Continue reading...

What would Marcus Aurelius tweet?

For my sins, I recently stumbled back onto Twitter. The first casualty of social media is peace of mind—but since I’m also reading about stoicism, which places tranquility as the highest good, I’ve resolved not to use social media to amplify messages of distress and outrage. And boosting these messages is something I used to do quite a lot. It’s not that I’m suddenly indifferent to social and political causes. I passionately believe in many of them. However, it’s not clear that constant fear, worry, and anger are helping us.

For example, in the case of the climate crisis, significant warming seems like a fait accompli. That doesn’t mean we should roll over and let emissions skyrocket but there’s a difference between writing to raise awareness and hosing people down with rage and anxiety.… Continue reading...