How can I handle depictions of suffering better emotionally?
Answer by taeMar 18, 20215

I'm currently researching the related topic of the compassion-oriented Buddhist spiritual path, so my response will be from that perspective. Feel free to DM me if you want to chat. 

John Makransky, of Boston College and Kathmandu University, has done great work on this question. He adapts Tibetan Buddhist practices for a secular Western context. See "Compassion Without Fatigue: Contemplative Training for People who Serve Others" (third link from the top). The main insight for me is that I am not alone in trying to alleviate suffering--so many people throughout history have stood in compassionate solidarity, and I can draw on them for support.

Makransky takes the opposite approach of commenter Denis Drescher--he (and the Buddhist tradition) believe that reducing feelings of compassion is not the answer. Boundless compassion (along with boundless wisdom) is quite literally the goal of the Mahayana Buddhist path, so it's wonderful that you feel so much compassion already. Countless Asian philosophers have been developing these ideas for millennia, so they've inevitably come up with some good ideas and coping mechanisms!

For a beginner-friendly philosophical analysis of the progression from painful compassion to wise equanimity, see Sadness, Love, Openness by Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche. Note that this author is a Tibetan lama, so he takes a more religious approach than Makransky.

Hope this helps!

Religious Texts and EA: What Can We Learn and What Can We Inform?

I highly recommend the Bodhicaryavatara by Shantideva! It's the most significant ethical text of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, with some serious Madhyamaka metaphysics sprinkled in. I'm currently writing my undergrad thesis on it, and I'd be happy to talk about it.

Here's a great guide: https://www.shambhala.com/guide-to-the-way-of-the-bodhisattva/. I took an intensive course on the Bodhicaryavatara in the traditional monastic style in Kathmandu, Nepal; see https://ryi.org/programs/degree-programs if you really want to dive deep. The school is currently offering all courses online.

I'm also studying The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus, with the accessible commentary Thirty Steps to Heaven by Vassilios Papavassiliou. St. John is venerated in both the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, but he gets more attention from the Orthodox. I find Orthodoxy fascinating because it has such a mystical relationship-oriented spirituality compared to the legalistic style of both Catholicism and Protestantism. However, this text focuses on individual spirituality; there's not much discussion of ethics. 

Brainstorm: What questions will the general public find most interesting about charities and causes?
Answer by taeMar 03, 20212

Why should I donate to international poverty relief when these people would just have more kids (contributing to overpopulation) and not do anything good in the world? Shouldn't I donate to scholarship funds for local college students instead, since they're more likely to make a difference?

(I suspect this is a common line of reasoning among well-off educated white people in wealthy countries who think people in third-world countries are selfish and unambitious, but won't say that outright.)

Brainstorm: What questions will the general public find most interesting about charities and causes?

Absolutely, I hear this all the time. Here's some anecdotal advice:

In particular, there's a strong thread in my circles that privileged people need to give up their power (for example, this was recently posted in the math Discord server at my left-leaning university), and philanthropy allows privileged people to hold onto power while feeling good about themselves. Social justice folks and EAs agree that everyone is complicit in injustice, and we should each take life-changing steps to help. The difference is that EAs claim that throwing away one's power isn't a good way to help. EAs could appeal to social justice folks by arguing that donating money is a great way to share the benefits of one's privilege; GiveDirectly is particularly appealing here. Finally, I've heard good things about mutual aid societies; perhaps you could compare and contrast mutual aid societies and effective charities.

Careers Questions Open Thread

Here's a compilation of ideas from 2015 called "What Can A Technologist Do About Climate Change?": http://worrydream.com/ClimateChange/

Careers Questions Open Thread

Hi! Thanks for this new way to get career advice.

I'd greatly appreciate ideas for where my skill set could be most useful.

My dream job would be some sort of research role at the intersection of philosophy, math, computer science, and religious studies. Lately, I've been curious about the risks of demographic shift toward religious fundamentalists.

What steps could I take toward a role like this? Where can I find EAs interested in the future religious landscape? Has there already been discussion in EA circles about the demographic shift toward fundamentalism?

As soon as I can, I plan to do some internet research and write up preliminary thoughts on risks from fundamentalism. I'll also work on getting more involved in the Christian and Buddhist EA communities. Beyond that, though, what can I do?


Here's my background:

I expect to graduate this June from a US public research university with a major in Philosophy, a minor in Math, and a minor in Computer Science. I completed a few semi-prestigious tech research internships, spent a semester studying at a Buddhist monastery in Nepal, and am writing my thesis on the spiritual paths of Mahayana Buddhism and Orthodox Christianity.

I have a strong grasp of an unusually wide variety of philosophies and religions. It brings me endless enjoyment to understand where people are coming from. I've won a couple philosophical writing awards.

As for math and computer science, I'm your run-of-the-mill strong student. I excel at proofs and logic, but I don't enjoy programming much. I'd love to learn more math—a minor doesn't feel like enough!

What posts do you want someone to write?
Answer by taeNov 19, 202019

As someone dubiously planning a career affiliated with the U.S. Department of Defense, I would really appreciate an analysis of working inside and outside of The System. Historically, have altruists been able to do good from within harmful governments (fascist dictatorships, military juntas, genocidal governments, etc.)? How? Which qualities do altruism-friendly systems have?

What quotes do you find most inspire you to use your resources (effectively) to help others?
Answer by taeNov 19, 20204

"I only ask of God
That I am not indifferent to the pain,
That the dry death won’t find me
Empty and alone, without having done the sufficient."

from https://lyricstranslate.com/en/Solo-le-pido-Dos-I-only-ask-God.html

"But those who fill with bliss
All beings destitute of joy,
Who cut all pain and suffering away
From those weighed down with misery,
Who drive away the darkness of their ignorance— 
What virtue could be matched with theirs?
What friend could be compared with them?
What merit is there similar to this?"

"The great should never be abandoned for the less,
And others' good should be regarded as supreme."

"If with kindly generosity
One merely has the wish to soothe
The aching heads of other beings
Such merit knows no bounds.
No need to speak then, of the wish
To drive away the endless pain
Of each and every living being,
Bringing them unbounded excellence.”

“If the simple thought to be of help to others
Exceeds in worth the worship of the Buddhas,
What need is there to speak of actual deeds
That bring about the weal and benefit of beings?”

from Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra (The Way of the Bodhisattva) by Śantideva

What are some quick, easy, repeatable ways to do good?
Answer by taeNov 18, 20203

I can't resist mentioning that Mahayana Buddhism considers meditation to be an altruistic act because it fosters wisdom and compassion. Sam Harris' Waking Up app is particularly great at taking meditation seriously; plus, the company has taken the Giving What We Can pledge.

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