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Only Because You Were Wondering

I know you stay up late at night asking: What religion is Amy Winehouse?

You can go to bed now.

She’s a Buddhist.

A source said: “One of her musicians introduced Amy to Buddhist chanting. She chants for ten minutes in the mornings and just before she sleeps.

“Amy has also been watching the interview clip of TINA TURNER chanting on YouTube and she reckons it’s already affecting her in a positive way.

“She has a string of Buddhist beads that she chants with, which she keeps in a red silk scarf.

“She says chanting is filling her life with positivity while she is trying to sort herself out.”

In this case, I’ll admit I’m kind of glad she’s not an atheist.

(via New Humanist)

  • ryot

    Whatever helps her get back to singing is okay with me, and you could do a lot worse than Buddhism, like Kabbalah or Catholicism.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Wikipedia tells me that her mantra is exegetically (I learned a new word!) translated to “Devotion to the Mystic Law of cause and effect that exists throughout all the sounds and vibrations of the universe”.

    Wait, who’s Amy Winehouse?

  • http://gaytheist.wordpress.com Reed Braden

    As long as her music doesn’t start to suck because of the Buddhism and it helps her get off the drugs long enough to put out a few more albums, I’m okay with it.

    If she starts preaching, I’m done listening to her music.

  • http://www.nautblog.blogspot.com Sean the Blogonaut

    I thought Buddhist doctrine was to only teach Buddhist doctrine if invited?

  • cipher

    Actually, Kabbalah isn’t so bad, if it’s taught properly. A lot of correlates with Buddhism and Vedanta. It’s the Kabbalah Center (Madonna et. al.) that’s given it a bad name.

    Buddhist teachers are, indeed, only supposed to teach if requested to. The mantra Miller quoted above indicates she’s into Soka Gakkai, a Japanese form that Tina Turner practices. Very different from the other forms generally available to Westerners (Tibetan, Zen), and somewhat controversial.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    Bless. Some harmless chanting is better than getting off your face every night and enjoying yourself….er.

  • http://lifebeforedeath.blogsome.com Felicia Gilljam

    Umm… So… how does her not believing in god not make her an atheist?

  • http://www.meritboundalley.net Joe M

    You know, she hit me as the type to value moderation in all things.

  • http://3thingsdaily.com ngl

    take it from a practicing buddhist, what she is practicing is Buddhism Light(tm). as cipher said higher up, it is somewhat controversial in buddhist circles, consisting of little more than just chanting.

    of course, i’ve been known to sit facing a wall for upwards of eight hours a day, so take the source as you will…

  • Lidwina

    > Umm… So… how does her not believing in god not make her an atheist?

    To be an atheist you have to not believe in all of them, not just a selection.

  • Chris Nowak

    She’s probably going to die soon…

  • cipher

    of course, i’ve been known to sit facing a wall for upwards of eight hours a day, so take the source as you will…

    Ngl,

    I take it you’re a Zen practitioner (or possibly Vipassana, but eight hours sounds like a lot for them)?

    I used to manage a Tibetan center. I once showed the monks a documentary about Japan. There was a scene in which Zen monks were sitting facing the wall. The discipline monk came around and hit them with the keisaku. One of the Tibetan monks, a young man in his thirties, looked at me wide-eyed and exclaimed, “Japanese monks crazy!”

  • http://3thingsdaily.com ngl

    Cipher,

    You got it. Zen. I can honestly back up the “Japanese monks CRAZY” statement. The first Zen meditation retreat (5 days, 8 hours of zazen a day) I went to, I was literally screaming in my head. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Now I can’t get enough. This last one took place during the tropical storm that came through Florida. I get so excited when a date is set for the next one.

    The more people I meet of other Buddhist traditions, the more it’s reinforced that Zen is “hard” Buddhism. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s good for me.

    And believe it or not, after a couple hours of Zazen, that keisaku feels so frickin good.

  • cipher

    And believe it or not, after a couple hours of Zazen, that keisaku feels so frickin good.

    Yeah, I’ve heard that, actually!

  • Milena

    I love Amy Winehouse and I don’t care what anyone has to say about it. I sure hope this helps her get back on her feet and get back into music, because I don’t think I can stand hearing Girlicious on the radio one more time!

  • Dread Polack

    I studied Japanese-flavored Zen for a little while from a Norwegian Minnesotan. He didn’t use the keisaku, but his teacher (who was Japanese) did for a while. One day, a visiting sensei (who, IIRC was not Japanese, but Korean) made a comment about how he didn’t hit people with sticks, and the Japanese sensei immediately discontinued the practice.

    My teacher taught in a very non-religious way to a bunch of white Minnesotan hippies, it always felt more rational than metaphysical.

    I gave up Zazen when I couldn’t stay awake for more than 5 minutes. The sensei said that the purpose wasn’t to relax and get sleepy, so if you are, something is wrong- like you’re not getting enough sleep. Turns out I have Narcolepsy, so meditation is out for the foreseeable future :)

  • http://lifebeforedeath.blogsome.com Felicia Gilljam

    Ok, so I’m a bit late, but still:

    > > Umm… So… how does her not believing in god not make her an atheist?
    > To be an atheist you have to not believe in all of them, not just a selection.

    My point exactly. Buddhists have no god. (Buddhism is still practically a theistic religion since many buddhists revere the buddha to the point of considering him a god, but that’s not very common in the western Buddhism Light version.)

  • cipher

    Buddhism is generally presented to Westerners as “a philosophy, not a religion”. It’s really much more of a religion than Westerners realize.

  • Tyler

    Buddhism can be confusing- I’ve been studying various permutations of it for about seven years now, so I’m a newbie, but at its core it’s a philosophy, not a religion as Westerners would understand it- but the waters get muddy when looking at the different types of Buddhism as influenced by local religions and traditions. Tibetan Buddhism is by far the most religiously based sect as it was influenced by the Tibetan shamanic Bon religion predating Buddhism by centuries if not millenia. I’ve heard it called the Catholicism of Buddhism.

    But anyway- I like Buddhism because it’s a philosophy at its core, not a religion- no gods, spirits, or supernatural energy (but that doesn’t stop people from adding them on). I take the Buddha’s admonition to heart (extremely paraphrased): Just because you heard it, just because you read it, just because someone in authority said it, that doesn’t make it true. But if it aligns with reason and your experience, consider it possibly true.

    That’s Buddhism as I naively understand it (so far).

  • cipher

    Tyler,

    I agree with you about Tibetan Buddhism, but Theravada in its native form is just as bad. Westerners don’t get to hear about it much, because it’s presented to them in the form of Vipassana, which is meditative method derived from Theravada, but largely stripped of iconography and doctrinal content.

    Whether Buddhism is, at its core, a philosophy and not a religion, is a matter of contention. I’ve been throwing up to them for years the fact that we’re told constantly that the Buddha said not to accept anything merely because he said it, until you get to the part about karma and rebirth – then, guess what? You have to accept it on faith; you have to have faith in the Buddha’s awakening, in his ability to understand reality in all of its fullness, and in the accuracy of the subsequent reporting over the centuries. I’ve been given answers all across the board. One Western scholar who is also a Theravada monk told me, a couple of years ago, that the necessity of having faith was assumed from the beginning; the idea of faith not being a requirement came in later with Buddhist philosophy, particularly with the Mahayana philosophers. A few months ago, Alan Wallace told me that he disagrees; blind faith was never a requirement. I like Alan tremendously – he’s the only Western teacher of Tibetan Buddhism I’ve met in thirty years who hasn’t succumbed to fanaticism – but, honestly, at this point, I don’t know whom to believe. Which is, ironically, representative of the problem at hand.

    My repeated experience has been that, as is the case with all religions, you can never get a straight or definitive answer.

  • Scott

    cipher and the interested,

    As a practitioner of zazen and an atheist, I think I have to admit that some buddhists and/or atheists whom I have met engage in the act of faith. However, I wouldn’t renounce my label as an atheist or buddhist because of it. Certainly, Buddhism or atheism doesn’t exist without those that believe it, but does it really make sense to dismiss Buddhism because of the lack of reason that some may exhibit? For me and my practice of sitting (not the lazy boy kind), the question of what others do or believe has virtually no impact on my own philosophy or practice. Call me a buddhist or not, no matter, really. Why am I typing?

  • cipher

    Call me a buddhist or not, no matter, really. Why am I typing?

    Well, that’s a very Zen statement!

    I’m not “dismissing” Buddhism. I think its meditative practices are of value. I also think it’s important for Westerners to realize that a lot of what they think they know of Buddhism is the result of marketing.

    There’s a lot of fire and brimstone in Buddhism – the threat of “lower rebirth”. It doesn’t get emphasized in Western Zen or in Vipassana. They were altered on the journey over; Tibetan Buddhism has come here more or less unadulterated.

    If you find sitting helpful, that’s great. And you may certainly call yourself a Buddhist – but zazen alone doesn’t constitute all of Buddhism. In fact, there have been scholars in the past who debated whether of not Zen should even be considered Buddhism, as it represented a confluence of Buddhism and Taoism, and its teachers tended to be iconoclastic. Certainly, the Tibetan teachers I’ve known, if they knew anything about Zen other than just the name, would have had trouble considering it to be Buddhism. But, then, the Theravadans would say the same of Tibetan Buddhism.

  • Scott

    What you think you know about Buddhism? The question I was getting at in the previous comment was this: What is Buddhism really? Is it the core of the teaching identified by the guy we call the Buddha, or is it the collection of rituals and beliefs that have stemmed from it over thousands of years of interpretation (lazy or creative). Well…I think, and you probably do too, that Catholicism is exceedingly ridiculous, largely because of its belief in all of these saints and rituals that clearly had nothing to do with Christ. Why, then, would it qualify as Christianity? If you have all these Buddhist saints and odd fire and brimstone ideas never attributable to the Main Dude Gautama, then why is it called Buddhism? The central conflict of what to call Buddhism is, I think, what is inherently frustrating and silly about the idea of Buddhism. I suppose that’s why the labels have no impact in my practice. And I still don’t know why I’m typing. It seems like I wouldn’t even respond if I truly didn’t care at all.

    Point taken about Zen not being entirely representative of all Buddhist traditions, though you would have to admit that no singular Buddhist tradition is entirely representative of all of Buddhist tradition. But perhaps Zen is less statistically representative than others.

    It seems easy to find buddhist infighting. It really makes me kind of laugh, but I really don’t think that it ought to be a real target for atheists. I think, from experience, that Buddhism is more complicated than most atheists are willing to give it credit for. There is often an act of faith involved that leads people to believe that what they think they know about buddhism, whether through marketing or anti-marketing, is correct.

    Your comments are appreciated.

  • cipher

    If you have all these Buddhist saints and odd fire and brimstone ideas never attributable to the Main Dude Gautama, then why is it called Buddhism?

    It’s generally accepted that the Buddha did talk about lower rebirth. How much of what is attributed to him did he actually say? That’s a matter for scholars. How much of Jesus’ sayings were actually uttered by him? Did he even exist? It’s a matter of scholarly debate, but no one knows for certain.

    Again, you’re practicing Zen – and Western Zen, at that. These are concepts that would have been presented to you as peripheral ideas, if they are even presented at all. Method and content vary with tradition, even from teacher to teacher within a lineage.

    Religion is like language; it grows and changes over time. You want to get back to the “essence” of the Buddha’s message? You have to make decisions about what you think he said, and what he didn’t say. It’ subjective. Look at the Jesus seminar – they’re distinguishing between what they think Jesus said, and what they think was added later. They may be discerning fairly accurately, based upon years of study, but, in the end, it’s subjective.

    The bottom line is that, even though we are told that the Buddha said not to accept anything on faith, one has to accept as a matter of faith that the Buddha said thus and so. It’s a contradiction, but it’s difficult to get most Western Buddhists to acknowledge this. You can throw all of that out if you want to, and just practice meditation. Is that Buddhism? I know plenty of practitioners who would say it isn’t. But, then, I know some who would say that merely being compassionate is practicing the Dharma. I think the Dalai Lama would say as much, but I’m quite certain he’d also tell you that the goal of existence is to reach that high evolutionary state known as “enlightenment”, and that meditation alone won’t get you there.

    I really don’t think that it ought to be a real target for atheists.

    I don’t know of any atheist who has a problem with Buddhism in the way they do with Western religions. My experience has been that atheists, when they “target” a religion, generally go after Christianity, and, to a lesser extent, Islam – because these are the religions that are creating the most discord right now.

    We need labels for the sake of convention, otherwise communication becomes difficult, if not impossible, but, you’re correct – labels are inherently problematic. When an atheist says something like, “You can’t be a Buddhist and an atheist”, two things are going on – 1. He/she is getting hung up on the label; 2. He’s equating atheism with materialism. I think most atheists are material realists, but it isn’t a requirement; I’m not convinced of it, myself. So, what is Buddhism? Again, you have two choices: 1. You can regard it as Westerners regard “divine revelation”, and insist that Buddhism is whatever was taught by the historical Buddha (but then, again, you have the problem of determining what he actually said); 2. Buddhism (as is the case with any belief system) is what is believed by people who call themselves “Buddhists”.

    Ultimately, I have to come down on the side of those who see Buddhism as a religion. The “religious” aspects aren’t manifested much in Vipassana or in Western Zen. In Asian Zen and in Theravadan Buddhism, it’s another story, but to what extent they still affect the development of these cultures, I couldn’t tell you; I’m not an Asia scholar. I do frequently get to talk to scholars, and they always agree – the “Buddhisms” to which virtually all Westerners are being exposed are sanitized versions, marketed for Western consumption.

  • Scott

    I suppose what you consider the unadulterated type of japanese zen was once an adulterated form of the authentic Chinese cha’an or Indian dhyana. What we have here is a philosophy that is adapting (like a language, as you stated); a perfectly natural process that will contain positive and negative elements, as always.

    It’s also worth mentioning that Japanese Zen has been marketed to Japanese people for decades as well. Consider that the Soto tradition is often mockingly called the ‘funeral directors association.’
    Also, as you noted, the stress of or interpretation of things like reincarnation varies widely between different lineages, whether western or not. For this reason, I find it illogical that you would assume based on my response that I am practicing ‘western zen.’ In case you are curious, the stuff I do goes through Gudo Nishijima (an interesting chap) and his predecessors.

    But you make a good point in stating that we must take on faith what it was that the Buddha actually said. Most practitioners of Zen tend not to care about the authenticity of what it was that he stated, or whether it was stated by him or anybody else. If a text seems useful, or aligns with what it is that you reason or experience, then it is valid regardless of who said it. Most traditional japanese zen practitioners that I know tend to focus on Shobogenzo, written by Dogen Zenji around the 12th century anyways. This isn’t because he was blessed in some special way, but rather because he was a creative writer and thinker.

    In summary, the philosophical variations within a school of thought are often more profound than the variations that exist between the schools, much like the degree of genetic variation within a ‘race’ is more profound than the genetic variation between ‘races.’ I haven’t given evidence to support this claim beyond the zen schools here, but humor me for a moment. Therefore, it doesn’t seem quite accurate to depict one school as being unrepresentative of buddhism as a whole.

    But beyond this, I think I could be pretty easily convinced that Buddhism is generally more of a religion than a philosophy based on many of the people that I have met. I understand that labels are important for communication, so I suppose I don’t have any problem relinquishing my label as a buddhist in this case. I think the only reason that zen practitioners in particular haven’t really given up the term buddhist, at least as of yet, is precisely because of the perceived convenience in using a term that’s been around for a long time. Perhaps the problem will seem to outweigh the perceived convenience and things will one day change.

    Just out of curiosity, what do you do?

  • cipher

    Consider that the Soto tradition is often mockingly called the ‘funeral directors association.’

    That’s funny! I was aware that the Japanese tend to turn to Buddhism for their death rites, but I hadn’t heard this one, or that Soto was the preferred form. Any particular reason (Soto, I mean)?

    For this reason, I find it illogical that you would assume based on my response that I am practicing ‘western zen.’

    OK, sorry. I made an assumption. But, by “Western Zen”, I don’t mean just that Zen that is taught by Western teachers, but the Zen that is taught to Westerners. Sometimes Asian teachers, out of sensitivity or practicality, or just individual temperament, adjust style and content accordingly – Suzuki, for example. The Tibetans, as I mentioned, tend not to do so as much. If a lama isn’t constantly going on about hell realms, I think he thinks he’s made a serious accommodation. Although the young ones seem naturally to be more liberal. Exile and encounter with the West have had a lot to do with it. We’ll see how it develops.

    Just out of curiosity, what do you do?

    You mean for a living? Right now, not much. I used to do some IT work, but very little now. About a year and a half ago, I ended a three-year gig as Manager in a Tibetan center.

  • http://3thingsdaily.com ngl

    That’s funny! I was aware that the Japanese tend to turn to Buddhism for their death rites, but I hadn’t heard this one, or that Soto was the preferred form. Any particular reason (Soto, I mean)?

    the head monk at the temple where i attend said that exact same thing. soto is the predominant sect of zen in japan, and the japanese have very specific times to have memorial services for deceased loved ones. the aforementioned head monk said that when he was practicing in japan for a number of years at a soto zen monastary (the name escapes me), they would have days where all they did for 12 hours were memorial services.

    as a side-note, the other main sect of zen in japan is rinzai. i don’t know much about it in respect to death rites, but it focuses more on enlightenment through koan study and immediate experience, where soto relies more on “shikantaza” or the act of “just sitting” for enlightenment experience.

  • cipher

    as a side-note, the other main sect of zen in japan is rinzai. i don’t know much about it in respect to death rites, but it focuses more on enlightenment through koan study and immediate experience, where soto relies more on “shikantaza” or the act of “just sitting” for enlightenment experience.

    That, I knew. I didn’t know that Soto was predominant (or, if I knew, I’d forgotten).


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