Australian General Semantics Society Inc.




Seminar Summary - 23 October 2016


"Buddhist General Semantics"

A New Approach to Buddhist Religion and its Philosophy.  We considered how this ancient religion (or “a-theism”) is still alive and growing, in light of Bruce Kodish’s book that we studied in April, the (hypothetical) visits by the Buddha himself, and Alfred Korzybski’s G.S. formulations. 
Led by Robert.



Our seminar
at "Cifftop View" Bonnet Bay in Sydney was again hosted by Pauline and Gavan - Thank you both!


It was a while since our last seminar, so there were some triumphs and tragedies to relate and yarns to swap.


GS Diary
In the spirit of "applying general semantics principles" to our lives, as opposed to dwelling in theory, we considered members' accounts of observations and applications relating to the principles and formulations of our discipline.

We thought that we'd re-visit this one, to update our experiences and insights, in light of some additional material.


A Few Reflections on General Semantics

We revised some basic concepts and tried some exercises.

1. Some Thoughts/Explorations on General Semantics 

We strolled around some GS formulations for revision, considering what makes this discipline unique, and how it relates to other fields. 

1.1 Unconscious Assumptions

We watched ErdLinng’s video “
Unconscious Assumptions Which Cause Apparent Contradictions and considered the difficulty caused(in this case) by being bound to the strictures of gender stereotype.

1.2 The Five Boo-Boos in our Use of English 

This caused us some fun, as we can “all” identify with these to a degree:

* Over-use of the definite article (“The”)
We tend to use it 1000 times a day, but 90% of the time it’s “wrong”.  “The” comprises about 6% of all printed text (of 30,000 words in common use, 500,000 total). 
Some examples:
“What’s the (
a) truth about this situation?”
the reason … ”
the answer … ”
“That’s just the way it is … ”. 

“We’re all brain damaged, but I’m in language rehab.”

The word “the” is wrong maybe 90% of the time. It is OK sometimes, eg “If I go blind in one eye, there’s a chance I’ll go blind in the other eye.”  (Not “another eye” … ).
: Catch ourselves using the word “the”

* “Re-ification -
A noun is a person, place or thing.”The reason that this nonsense works is that there’s a problem with English ...  “A noun is a person, place or thing.” – wrong “thing” does not include abstractions, eg “knowledge”, “humility”.  These abstractions have no verifiable attributes. 

* Dualism – “good or bad”:
“This or that”, “hot or cold”: projected dualism.  An aspect of our analysis, not an attribute of the world.Language touches every aspect of human behaviour.Two-valued logic almost never applies in the physical world, or the sensory world.. Of course, it’s sometimes OK, eg “married/not married”, and in mathematics, where it’s a matter of definition!

* Absolutism:
This is "always" false in the human world, eg “All Frenchmen”OK in mathematics etc. 

* The “is of identity”
eg “That’s a palm tree”  (a classification),
g “My neighbour’s an idiot” as opposed to
     “He lives in a mess … ”, etc.
Nothing much is identical over time.

See David Borland’s “E-Prime”.  It is surprisingly easy to read!

2. Musings on Buddhism

2.1. A Glimpse at Buddhism – Life of the Buddha

There is huge literature on Buddhist history, teachings and practice.On the global scale,
Buddhism is considered to be a religion and
dharma that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on teachings attributed to  Buddha. Buddhist schools vary on the exact nature of the path to liberation, the importance of various teachings and scriptures, and especially their respective practices.

We spent a little while watching
Mindah-Lee Kumar (The Enthusiastic Buddhist)’s story of the Life of the Buddha: 

This was discussed in terms of the historicity (or otherwise) of the story, and the significance of other important myths.  One of the Buddhist concepts that is most difficult for many of us, is that of re-“incarnation”. 

Mindah-Lee Kumar discusses it thus:
Reincarnation, Rebirth, Life After Life & Past Life Evidence

2.2. Buddhism Around the World, and in Australia

Buddhism is
considered to be the world's fourth-largest religion, with over 500 million followers or 7% of the global population, known as Buddhists.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are nearly half a million Buddhists in Australia and this number is growing rapidly, doubling between 1996 and 2006.

There is generally much goodwill from other religions towards Buddhists. This stems from the perception that Buddhists are generally peaceful and non-threatening. The challenge for Buddhists engaged in interfaith dialogues is to find the common ground, for example, shared values of compassion and kindness, and to explore with other faiths the spiritual, existential and day-to-day issues of living. 

The Nan Tien Temple near Port Kembla is rather a splendid affair.  It is quite a busy place, serving a multitude of functions, and open to the public.   

Nan Tien 

In Canberra we have a Buddhist Thai temple on a lesser scale, strongly supported by the Buddhist community here:

2.3. Some Foundations of Buddhism -
      The Four Noble Truths

      * All life knows suffering.
     Nobody gets (all of) what they want in life. 

The cause of suffering is ignorance and clinging.

           Wanting it is the problem.

      * There is a way to end suffering.
           By learning not to want it.

      * This is the way to end suffering:
           The Eightfold Path.

This list is obviously a gross simplification, but it is a start.  We discussed these issues at some length, in light of issues like the need to define “happiness” and “suffering”, and minimising expectations. 

Mindah-Lee Kumar explains the Four Noble truths in this video:
Buddhist Beliefs: The Four Noble Truths
- Duration: 19 minutes.  

2.4. The Five Precepts 

The Five Precepts are the basis of Buddhist morality.

    * The first precept is to avoid killing or harming living beings.

    * The second is to avoid stealing,

    * The third is to avoid sexual misconduct,

    * The fourth is to avoid lying

    * The fifth is to avoid alcohol and other intoxicating drugs.

We thought that these were pretty acceptable, and quite in accord with the GS principles of time-binding etc.

2.5. The Eight-Fold Plan 

      * Right Understanding

          Learning the nature of reality and the truth about life.

* Right Aspiration
          Committing to live in such a way that our suffering can end.

* Right Effort
          Just do it - No Excuses!

* Right Speech
          Speaking the truth in a helpful and compassionate way.

* Right Conduct
          Living a life consistent with our values.

* Right Livelihood
          Earning a living in a way that doesn’t hurt others.

*. Right Mindfulness
          Recognising the value of the moment; living where we are.

* Right Concentration
          Expanding our consciousness through meditation.

More discussion ensued.  Despite emergent differences in our participants’ values and opinions, it was clear that we considered these principles to be quit consistent with GS formulations. 

And yes, there’s a nice video for this as well:  
Buddhist Teachings: The Noble Eightfold Path
- Duration: 28 minutes.  

3. “Buddhist GS”

“It is not surprising to find that the goals of both Semantics and Zen are very similar.  Both are vitally concerned with development of full human potentialities. (Randy Berkman)

3.1 The Notion of “spirit” / “spirituality” in GS
       and in Buddhism

Alfred Korzybski’s first major work, “Manhood of Humanity” included many references to “spirit” and “spirituality”, which many “non-spiritual” general semanticists find rather surprising.

However, Korzybski appears to use these words in a sense that makes no reference to “a god” or to mankind having a “creator”.  He says, for example .. 

“The author has done his utmost to use such words as convey only the meaning intended, and in the case of some words, such as "spiritual," there has been superadded the word "so-called," not because the author has any
belief or disbelief in such phenomena; there is no need for beliefs because some such phenomena exist, no matter what we may think of them or by what name we call them; but because the word "spiritual" is not scientifically defined, and every individual understands and uses this word in a personal and private way … ” 

This is quite consistent with Buddhist belief that there is nothing to be gained by attributing human existence to “a god” or identifying “spirit” as any sort of super-natural entity.

3.2 “Nullius in verba” 

One of the synergies that I particularly like relates to the importance of being aware of the abstracting process, as illustrated in the Structural Differential model. 

Of course, this notion was not first developed by Alfred Korzybski.  The Royal Society, founded in November 1660, has the motto “Nullius in verba” (“On the word of no one”). 
It is an expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment.  

This is surely an expression of our GS formulation that “The map (eg conventional wisdom) is not the territory.” 

And the Buddha is often quoted thus:

“Believe nothing,
no matter where you read it,
or who said it,
no matter if I have said it,

unless it agrees with your own reason
and your own common sense.”

The Buddha’s reply is very full, but it’s clear he says that “reason” (logical conjecture, inference, analogies, agreement through pondering views) and “common sense” (probability) are not sufficient bases for determining what the truth is.

It’s not that these things should be discarded, but ultimately it’s experience and the opinion of the wise that is our guide.So this brings up at least two questions:

Q1. If experience is to be our guide, does that mean we have to test out every theory and practice?

The Buddhist answer: No. If a teacher says something like “taking drugs is the path to happiness” you don’t have to try drugs. Your experience includes observation of other people’s experience, so that if you have seen others suffering through taking drugs you don’t have to repeat their mistakes.

Q2. Who is to say who the wise are?

The(an) answer: You are. Through your experience (see point 1, above), whom have you found to be reliable and insightful in the past? Those people are “the wise”. Now you don’t have to take everything they say as being the absolute truth.

You can use your reason, your common sense, and your experience as a guide. Not all of “the wise” will agree, for example, so you’re still going to have to figure things out for yourself ultimately.

3.3. “Buddhist General Semantics:
A New Approach to Buddhist Religion and its Philosophy”
by Rev. Khai Thien

Today we considered Thien’s book, having done some preliminary reading.  A preview can be found here: 

Bruce Kodish reviewed the book here, with some thoughtful comments:  

3.4 Zen Buddhism and General Semantics.”
by Jessica Bridges
This essay is quite an accessible piece of work – a good introduction to the subject. 

3.5 Alan Watts on 'General Semantics'  
We rather liked Alan Watts’ comment:

"There's a very close tie in principle between Zen and General Semantics, but there is a great difference in practice. Most semantics people I know talk too much and get increasingly involved in increasingly fine distinctions, as if language could be made n-dimensional. But I do think many of the writers—Korzybski, Bois, Hayakawa—have said things to wake people up.  I'm all for General Semantics as long as they call a halt to the discussion at about eleven o'clock."

Paul Krassner's Impolite Interviews (1999), p. 3 New York: Seven Stories Press  Here is the original 1959 interview: 

3.6 “General Semantics and Zen”By J. Samuel Bois. 
See this
long article by our familiar Bois. 

And remember ..
Shall we leave it up to Freud
As to what brought forth this void;
Or be considered odd
And leave it up to God?

3.7 "Languages of Experience:
The Theory and Practice of a General Semantics Sufi"
by Neil Douglas-Klotz:

Edinburgh Institute for Advanced Learning:
Änother solid read on the subject!

3.8. “Overcoming Dualism”By Milton Dawes:

Another contribution, in Milton’s inimitable style!  


Business Meeting

This was the AGM 2016!

  * organised Annual Returns,
  * considered reports and
  * elected a new Committee!


Next Meeting:

Sun 20 November

"Behavioural Change via Changing Our Premises"

We will use Differential Diagnosis to go from the faulty theory T1 to the faulty premise P1.  This is then changed to a better premise P2, from which logically flows the better theory T2.  Expect a challenging day.

Led by David.

Disclaimer: This "summary" is a collection of notes derived from our discussion by a number of means.  It is by no means a scholarly dissertation on the subject as presented.  It does not purport to be the "policy of AGS".  Comment and criticism (constructive or otherwise) is welcome.  If anyone has been misquoted, copyrights infringed or confidences betrayed, please Contact us.



Updated by RJ 26 October 2016

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