Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I Am Nothing; I Am Everything

The great Indian teacher Nisargadatta Maharaj once said, "Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. Between the two my life flows." "I am nothing" does not mean that there is a bleak wasteland within. It does mean that with awareness we open to a clear, unimpeded space, without center or periphery--nothing separate. If we are nothing, there is nothing at all to serve as a barrier to our boundless expression of love. Being nothing in this way, we are also, inevitably, everything. "Everything" does not mean self-aggrandizement, but a decisive recognition of interconnection; we are not separate. Both the clear, open space of "nothing" and the interconnectedness of "everything" awaken us to our true nature. This is the truth we contact when we meditate, a sense of unity beyond suffering. It is always present; we merely need to be able to access it.
--Sharon Salzberg, Lovingkindness

These are some of the most profound words of Truth I've ever encountered. I can't improve upon them. And why should I even try? They are self-sufficient for those prepared to understand, and no paraphrasing or explanation would be likely to suffice for those unprepared to receive the message.

Godless Liberals and Compassionate Conservatives

Robert Godwin, a.k.a. "Gagdad Bob," is a clinical psychologist, author of One Cosmos Under God, and self-described "extreme seeker and off-road spiritual aspirant who has spent no less than one lifetime looking for the damn key to the world enigma." He is also a blogger whose popular blog One Cosmos is a formidable amalgam of psychoanalysis, Vedantist-Christian theology, Neoplatonic metaphysics, and conservative political philosophy articulated with mesmerizingly eloquent prose exhibiting a flair for "Joycean" wordplay.

In other words, Dr. Godwin is an erudite, brilliant, and fascinating man. Yet, he is also a "walking, talking contradiction" whose grand spiritual "vision" of seeking God while preaching hatred of our "enemies" and despising and ridiculing "Leftist moonbats" with monomaniacal focus seems a prime example of "partly truth and partly fiction," and almost certainly constitutes more fiction than truth.

One of his key arguments is that so-called "liberals" or "leftists" pathologically deny the existence of the divine or "vertical" axis of Being and the possibility of spiritual transcendence but nevertheless seek them in malignant social activism misguidedly bent on creating heaven on earth when what it would actually produce and has produced--in nations such as the former Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, and North Korea-- is the grimmest communist hell.

In a post yesterday that was actually unusually mild, for Gagdad Bob, in its criticism of "illiberal Leftists," Dr. Godwin wrote the folllowing:

Leftists are activists. And they are socially aware. And they are committed. But their frenetic activity is a substitute for being, “the restless and disappointing turmoil of superfluous things”; their social awareness is a substitute for vertical awareness; and their commitment is an ersatz replacement for faith--a false absolute and graven image for purposes of idol worship. This is why leftism generates such emotionality in its adherents--it is religious emotion in the absence of religion.

In other words, as Dr. Godwin asserts virtually every day in one way or another, people on the "left" side of the political spectrum believe and do what they do in the way of social activism because they are godless heathens who worship the godforsaken idols of "Big Government," Marxist egalitarianism, "multiculturalism," "ethical relativism," and, of course, "political correctness." If they only knew God--and the only way one can really hope to do this is by means of formal religion, preferably the supreme religion of traditional Christianity--they would love the free market, embrace the rugged individualism that made this country great, shout "America right or wrong" from the mountaintops, re-elect God's chosen president George W. Bush until he died of natural causes at a very advanced age, and torture and kill every Islamofascist they could get their righteous hands on. Of course, Gagdad doesn't say all of this in the passage quoted above, but it can all be reasonably inferred from reading as many of Dr. Godwin's posts as I have over the past few months and which I invite you to read and confirm for yourself.

This is how I responded to his passage:

There are people who believe that government should do far more than it does now to ensure that no human being suffers needlessly from poverty, homelessness, and illness and that human beings working together, with government involvement, can help to make this nation and this world a far more hospitable place for humans and other life forms. They believe that President Bush is unqualified intellectually and emotionally to have the power that he does, and that his Republican controlled administration and Congress have implemented policies disastrous or potentially so to the world at large and to the disadvataged in this country while aggrandanzing the already wealthy to an obscene extent.

Yet some of these same people are committed Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and members of other religious persuasions or adherents of other profoundly spiritual paths and believe every bit as much in the "vertical" as you do and work every bit as hard, if not harder, to fully realize it in themselves and to help others to realize it as you do.

Would you call them "leftists" too? If not, then is it not simplistic to suggest, as you seem to, that those who reject your conservative political and economic beliefs are necessarily godless heathens and that this godlessness underlies their "social awareness" and "activism" and their corresponding efforts to change the "material" world for the better?

Dr. Godwin, under the interesting nom de plume Cousin Dupree, responded in his characteristic fashion by saying: "Another review brought to you by the deaf music critic."

But someone else did come forth with an eloquent and thought-provoking response that, I think, neatly summarizes the intelligent (and possibly compassionate) conservative's position:

Yes, I would because (as good liberals must) they believe that the solutions to problems always involve government; conservatives believe that the private sector (i.e. individuals, churches, synagogues, private charities etc.) is best suited to deal with social issues. Until you grasp this basic fact, you will never “get” what is being discussed here.

By making “government” the vehicle through which poverty, homelessness and hunger are addressed, you take out personal responsibility to do what one can on an individual level to help our fellow man as we are commanded to do by God. When government is ultimately responsible for taking care of those less fortunate, the individual is (or at least feels he is) absolved of actually thinking about or seeing the condition of those around him/herself and ACTIVELY working to help their fellow man. When government is in charge of charity, all one must do is be gainfully employed and be willing to vote in politicians who have no compunction about taking a big wet bite out of your paycheck and voila you have done your part to help.

But that isn’t real charity; that is simply wealth transference. Real charity requires not only feeds the body but also feeds the soul by showing love and compassion. Real charity not only feeds the soul of the receiver but also the giver. You do not have to have any love or compassion for your fellow man when charity is a passive act of just letting the government take money out of your check each pay period. Can you really say that liberals feel themselves uplifted spiritually when they look at their pay stub and see what the government has taken out on behalf of the needy?

The difference between welfare and charity is the difference between a hand out and a hand UP. There is nothing more demoralizing and soul killing than being just another faceless, nameless case number, sitting in a government office filling out endless forms. But when an individual consciously reaches out a hand of love and compassion to a fellow human being, nothing could be more soul nourishing and brings both nearer to God.

The writer, using the nickname Eeeevil Right Wing Nut, seems to have missed the point of my question. I was questioning Dr. Godwin's incessant insistence that left-leaning people are not and cannot be religious. If Dr. Godwin had chosen to reply to me with something more substantive than a typical insult, he would have probably said words to the effect that these "Leftists" may call themselves "religious," but they're really not. However, I think ERWN realistically acknowledges that such people can be religious. It's just that their religious love and compassion for their fellow man must be realized through individuals and private sector organizations rather than through cold government bureaucracies.

I agree with ERWN that in a better world than this one, everyone who needed and deserved help would receive it in the charitable manner he (or she?) describes. But in THIS world, relying SOLELY on the compassion of private individuals and organizations seems like a recipe for disastrous deprivation of the needs of literally millions of men, women, and children throughout this nation, and if ERWN desperately needed food, housing, medical care, or other vital assistance for himself or his family that he was unable to provide, I'm quite certain he would rather be a "faceless, nameless case number" receiving welfare from an uncaring government bureaucracy than be lying with his children, starving and diseased, in Caluctta-like streets while more rugged and fortunate individuals like Gagdad Bob blithely stepped over him on their way home to regale their fellow Republican admirers with their grand spiritual "vision" on the Internet.

And if ERWN were to protest that I've exaggerated the consequences of ending all government assistance, I think that he need look only at the aforementioned Calcutta to see solid disproof of that. I also think he might want to actually sit down and talk with people who are alive today, healthy, and prospering only because of the government assistance that fed, housed, healed, and trained them so that they could improve their lives and the lives of their families to realize that government assistance is not the ineffectual evil he seems to think.

And if he talked with social workers and others involved in rendering this assistance, he might discover that they aren't all the heartless bureaucrats just dutifully going through the motions that he suggests they are. Many actually care about their clients and do wonderful jobs. And if ERWN had bothered to ask ME if I felt uplifted by seeing money taken out of my taxes to help the needy, I would have truthfully told him, "Yes, I do."

Would I love to see more people do more on an individual and private organizational level to help the needy? Of course. But do I have any belief or reason to believe that this can effectively take the place of all government assistance now or in the foreseeable future? Not on your life. And a truly compassionate and spiritually informed vision for our nation grounded in realism understands this. Too bad the likes of Gagdad Bob and his fawning "bobbleheads" at One Cosmos do not, and not only refuse to listen to but also contemptuously mock those who do.

(Cross-posted to Thoughts Chase Thoughts)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Worship the Unknown?

Today, Gagdad Bob wrote: "many people believe that you must first somehow decide whether or not God exists before joining a religion, but the opposite is true. One becomes religious so as to make God present in one’s life."

I replied with the following:

Might this be a little like worshipping Zeus or Allah before "deciding" whether he exists "so as to make Zeus, Allah, or some other false, mythical god present in one's life"? And given the human capacity for self-deception, if one worships a false god long enough and with enough desire to believe, isn't one likely to come to "know" that this god exists?

Of course, the other side of this epistemological quandary is that if one tries to know that a god exists from, as you say, the "outside," one may never know at all. This is why I have always thought that a real god would make his existence so obvious even to someone on the "outside" that he would be far more inclined to spend the rest of his life trying to know him as fully as possible from the inside through devoted worship.

This is how Gagdad, under the guise of "Cousin Dupree," answered:

"Nags, you raise questions that can only be asked and not answered by entering your invincible density, which no one here is inclined to do. "

Does anyone have a more substantive reply to the dilemma of which I wrote, or am I just being invincibly dense?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Miraculous Vision

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle, Every cubic inch of space is a miracle. Every square yard of the surface of the earth Is spread with the same. . . . What strange miracles are these! Everywhere . . .
Walt Whitman

Once when I was giving a talk I used the word “miracles,” and someone in the audience asked skeptically, “Tell us about one.”

Every moment you remain alive is a miracle. Talk to medical people; they will tell you there are a million and one things that can go wrong with this body of ours at any given instant. It is only because we haven’t developed the capacity for appreciating miracles that we don’t see them all around us. Life is a continuous miracle: not only joy but sorrow too; not only birth but death too.

But the most precious miracle of all is to see the divinity in every creature – when we see that the divinity in our hearts is our real Self, and that it is the same Self shining in all.
--Eknath Easwaran

Someone has just said to me that I'm "bereft of original ideas" to post on this blog, and he suggested that I rename this blog and dedicate it to commenting on the ideas expressed in his blog. It may boggle the mind that I would turn down such generous advice, but I replied to him that I would go on plugging away with my blog the way it is now.

One of the things I enjoy doing here is posting Easwaran's "thoughts for the day" when I find them particularly compelling. Sometimes, I have a comment or two to make about them, and sometimes I simply let them speak entirely for themselves. I hope that you, my readers, enjoy them and that some of you may even feel inspired to familiarize yourselves further with Easwaran's teachings.

It seems to me as though the word "miracle" is often overused to refer to things that are too commonplace to be truly miraculous. I tend to think of a miracle as something extremely and wonderfully extraordinary or unusual. By that token, there is nothing particularly miraculous about billions of human beings, not to mention other animals and life forms, remaining alive on this earth, unless, perhaps, this is the only planet or one of a vanishingly small number of planets in this incomprehensibly vast universe in which life exists at all much less persists for decades in a creature as seemingly complex as a human being.

But it does not seem to me to be the slightest exaggeration to refer to Whitman's vision or Easwaran's as a miracle because it is, indeed, wonderfully extraordinary. Despite the fact that saints and sages thoughout millennia have been telling us with their beautiful words and showing us with the majestic substance of their lives that God dwells within us all in some breathtakingly profound way, too few of us share this miraculous vision to set the world alight with its uplifting wisdom. However, there have been times when I've had alluring glimpses of this vision and beccome quite convinced that it amounts to more than self-aggrandizing delusion.

This is why I post Easwaran's words and my limited commentary on them here today. I'm hoping that Easwaran's words and mine will resonate with your own experience or help open the door, if only the tiniest crack, to your own miracle.

Friday, September 22, 2006

My Favorite Myth

God has created the world in play. – Sri Ramakrishna

A simple, childlike story in India’s ancient scriptures tells how multiplicity emerged from unity. The Lord, the One without a second, felt very lonesome one morning. After all, he was the only thing that existed in the entire universe, so when he looked around him, he could see no one but himself. This did not satisfy him at all. He wanted to play.

So he made playmates. Out of himself he created the myriads of creatures, the two-footed and the four-footed. He started playing with them, playing hide-and-seek, which is what life is all about. We are all playing this game with the Lord. We are all seeking him, and he is hiding playfully from us.

It is easy to talk about this, sing about this, paint this, but it is an entirely different matter to experience it. Yet in deepest meditation, the veil separating you and me can drop. Then, beneath the varied costumes, we will be able to perceive the same supreme Reality whom we call God, who is playing his game in the world.
--Eknath Easwaran

I have heard it said that myths can convey truths that literal accounts of reality cannot. Or myths can convey these truths more effectively because they resonate with deeper levels of consciousness. I've never found this to be true in my case, but maybe that's my failing and doesn't apply to people in general.

However, of all the myths I have ever heard about God, the universe, and human beings and how they all relate, the Hindu myth that Easwaran recounts above with his characteristic clarity and succinctness seems the truest and affects me with the most force. I have questions, such as why a perfect God would ever need to entertain Itself by unknowingly playing all of these imperfect roles that it ultimately seeks to see through so that it can regain its state of perfection from which it will then seek to divert Itself. But I still believe that it is the best myth yet devised, or of which I'm aware, to address the fundamental questions about existence and undergird a wisdom tradition worthy of the name.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Obeying the Speed Limit in The Promised Land

He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city. – Proverbs

In the interest of good health, in the interest of a long life, in the interest of loving relationships, it is essential to learn how to deal with our anger creatively and constructively. If we do not, in time it will no longer be isolated outbursts of anger; we will become the victims of an unending stream of rage, seething just below the surface of life, with which no human being can cope.

Through meditation and the mantram every one of us can learn to reduce the speed of our thinking, and install a reliable speedometer in our mind. Then, whenever the speed of thinking goes over, say, fifty-five, one of those recorded voices will automatically whisper, “Be careful. You may not be able to keep your car on the road.”

Positive thoughts travel slowly, leisurely. The slow mind is clear, kind, and efficient; in the beautiful phrase of the Bible, it is “slow to wrath.” Patience means thoughts puttering along like Sunday drivers, taking the trouble to notice the needs of people around.
--Eknath Easwaran

I love Easwaran's metaphor of mindfulness as a car that obeys a reasonable speed limit. It makes sense that a mind that moves in a more focused and unhurried manner will afford a clearer view of the surroundings and be less likely to "run off the road."

Yet, I've often wondered how to reconcile this kind of slow mind with a mind displaying the quickness that is characteristic of intelligence and adaptability to rapidly changing circumstances. Sometimes my mind feels sluggish, bored, and cooly indifferent alternating with the burning frustration of its episodic obtuseness. Other times, I feel swept along by the joyful exhilaration of a mind that races forward like a frisky child to understand things it normally doesn't and see connections it normally can't. (I sound positively bipolar when I say this, don't I? But I don't believe that I am. At least not clinically so.)

And then there are those special times when my mind seems to transcend dichtomies of fast and slow. It sees and understands and delights, but it does not race. It produces uncommonly effective speech and actions without even trying. It is calm and clear even in the midst of chaos and confusion. It loves everyone, forgives their transgressions, but also speaks hard truths to those who need to hear them, and it does all these things spontaneously and without reservation or regret. I believe that this is the state to which Easwaran refers. A state of constant clarity, unshakable equinimity, and surpassing joy.

I don't care what name one uses to label it or metaphor one employs to describe it. It is a taste of the "promised land" that I hope to inhabit for as much of the rest of my life as I can.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Gagdad Today

Here are some comments following today's post by Gagdad Bob over at One Cosmos:

Grant: Bob, give yourself permission to love people with different beliefs, such as Nagarjuna. Love Nag; Nag has no problem loving you. I love you, no matter what you do or say. You don't need to agree with someone to love them. You can love people because they exist, because they are children crying out in the dark, just like you.

Beliefs? Sure, they matter, but beliefs are mental phenomenon that belong to the material world. Love, on the other hand, is very vertical. Get back into the love, and still fight the liberals, Bob. The two are not incompatible; think Arjuna and Krishna at Kurushetra. Duty and belief do not preclude a universal love.Take care of business while you exist on the earth, Bob, but don't forget where you come from.

Gagdad Bob: I used to delete the moonbats, but this generally just encourges them. Some will keep posting again and again, no matter how many times I delete them, so it's best to just ignore them. And if you do respond--as I shouldn't have done with Nagarjuna--they are not here to learn but to disseminate their own confusion, so that is pointless as well.

Me: Grant, you make excellent points, especially about Arjuna. Bob has cited the conflict in the Gita in defense of waging war against evil. That is well and fine, even if many scholars and sages have explained that we should see this "war" more as symbolic of the war we need to wage against the ignorance and resulting evil in ourselves than as a literal exhortation to make war against external enemies. But, however one interprets the climactic battle at Kurukeshtra, Arjuna literally respects and even loves his enemies and fights them only out of duty to uphold goodness and justice (and, I might add, fear of the shame that would attach to not upholding this duty) rather than out of hatred for his foes.

Bob keeps saying, in one way or another, that people like you and me are here not to learn but only to trollishly "disseminate confusion." I don't know about you, although I have the impression that your motives are similar to mine, but I'm here to understand how other bright and articulate people see the world in ways that are very different than the way I see it, to uncover the truth that resides in their vision, and to integrate that perspective and truth with my own. I have learned SO much that is valuable and good from reading the posts and comments here, and I've tended to learn the most when I've been able to participate in the discussion. My perspective on conservatives and conservatism has taken a profound turn since I began visiting this blog a few months ago. I hold far greater respect for both than I did originally. But that doesn't mean that I accept everything Gagdad says as gospel truth, and if I have questions or misgivings about what he says, I express them as clearly as I can and consider every response with as much thoroughness and open-mindedness and open-heartedness as I can.

It strikes me as profoundly unfortunate that Bob and so many of his faithful readers, who I believe are sincere in wanting to know truth and do good and are so gifted with the potential to do both, seem to be looking for every reason they can find to champion and spread hatred in place of the love that IS, despite what they would have us believe, paramount.

To be honest, I do have a problem loving Bob the way I'd like. But I believe that I'm making progress. I'm sure it would warm the proverbial cockles of his heart to know it. :-)

Of Mantras and Maps

Suffering is the ancient law of love; there is no quest without pain; there is no lover who is not also a martyr.
– Heinrich Suso

Practically speaking, in order to learn to love, we need a tool for transforming anger into compassion, resentment into sympathy. We need some kind of brake to apply when the mind shifts into high gear under the influence of anger and other negative emotions. The mind is so used to having its own way in almost everything that all it knows is how to race out of control.

How many of you would ever step into your Pontiac or Toyota if you knew the brakes could suddenly fail. I could say, “You have plenty of gas, a big engine, gorgeous upholstery, and radial tires. Why don’t you go ahead?” You would reply, “But I can’t stop the thing!” Amazingly enough, most of us manage to travel through life without knowing how to brake the engine of the mind.

We can all install a simple but effective brake – the mantram. Whenever you feel agitated, annoyed, impolite, or downright angry, keep repeating the mantram. Gradually the mind will race less and less. When the brake is thoroughly road-tested, you will have the equipment to be patient and kind in every situation. You will be ready to face the tests that real love demands.
--Eknath Easwaran

Before anyone accuses Easwaran of being simplistic and ineffectual in his handling of such wayward emotions as anger and resentment, as though we can neutralize or sublimate them by merely chanting our mantram over them, it would be good to bear in mind that his using the mantram is only one of eight interlocking elements of a broader spiritual path that also includes daily meditation, mindfulness, slowing down, disciplined discrimination and action, altruism, spiritual reading and contemplation, and spiritual companionship. I'm quite certain that Easwaran would be the first to admit that just reciting a mantram won't effectively handle unfavorable emotions unless that recitation is accompanied and potentiated by all of these other complementary practices.

I'm inclined to believe that even this isn't always if ever enough. I think it might be helpful to use the mantram initially to make one's emotional upset managable, kind of like counting to ten, only better. But then it might be a good idea to go further and subject one's upset to some kind of philosophical and/or psychodynamic analysis or inquiry to dispel its disruptive power through an insightful understanding of its origins and context. Otherwise, it is in danger of being relegated to the shadows where it can strike at us as an invisible enemy. Personally, I am trying to integrate Easwaran's "eight-point program" into a broader path or "map" of Kosmic reality and life practice.

Speaking of maps of Kosmic reality, Bill Harryman and Joe Perez have been having a fascinating discussion of Tricycle blogger Lin Jensen's post urging a liberation from mental maps. Here is Bill's quote of the essence of Jensen's post:

Humans are attracted to constructing of their lives mental maps of linear progression aimed at improvement. We draw false and unwarranted assurance from maintaining a ready file of such maps as evidence that we know where we’ve been and where we’re going. We like to think that what we’re doing and where we’re headed amounts to making “progress.” We don’t much like chance events, because they can’t be anticipated or planned for and constitute a kind of messy interference in an otherwise well-designed itinerary. We don’t like sickness, old age, and death at all because these stubborn realities can’t be adapted to our travel preferences.

Joe said:

There's an unwritten, dangerous assumption here: that maps (i.e., world views--psychological, cultural and social constructions and interpretive lenses of reality) are optional. They are not optional. There is no alternative to having maps, unless (arguably) you are going to leave society at an early age to go live in a cave and subsist on the charity of others. (Even then, as a reclusive monk, you have mental maps. They're just child-like and naive.)...We may charitably interpret the Buddhist post not as a condemnation of map making but as a caution to avoid spending excessive energy on mental maps, and to critically examine our mental maps (by using other, more adequate mental maps, naturally) for unacknowledged assumptions of "progress" that confirm our naive prejudices or preferences. Read in this way, the post provides a succintly stated, important cautionary tale...

This is how Bill replied:

Of all the maps available, the Wilberian and SDi models offer me the most in terms of contextualization, which is always useful in an intellectual way. However, as the Buddhism post suggests, maps are a distraction. Maps will not help be more compassionate. Maps will not help me practice non-attachment so that my ego will cling less to samsara. Maps will not allow me to access the Buddhanature within me, you, all of us.And that is where my interest lies of late. Maybe it is because I have the maps fairly well internalized that I can disgard them for now. Or maybe it is because they were and have always been a distraction that I can walk away from them...

Joe's response:

WOW... this is SO VERY VERY different from my own experience. as my map changed, EVERYTHING in my life began to change dramatically, esp. my level of compassion. (How does anyone heal a neurosis? Basically it's looking into a past level of one's development at which a subpersonality split off, and then "treating" it with compassion and love instead of repression and denial. The "map" being the developmental model and psychological models. Maps are indispensable aids for advancing compassion.)

And this is was the comment I posted:

It seems to me that the post in question could be taken not as a condemnation of all maps and mapmaking, but as a caution against mistaking the map for the territory. I'm not sure this is how Jensen, the author, intended it, but this is the lesson I draw from it. I agree with you, Joe, that it's virtually impossbile to eliminate "maps" and their influence from our minds. The trick is to use the best maps we can and to use them well. It seems to me that there are times in most of our lives when we need to focus more on finding the right map or on upgrading the one we've already found, and there are times when, like Bill, we've become so dependent on the map for guidance and so fixated on a final destination we've traced out that we aren't open to fully observing and appreciating the territory around us and flexible enough to deviate from our preplanned route to catch the splendors that await us if we do or to take optimal detours around the roadblocks life throws at us. I suspect that there may always be, in some of us at least, a dynamic or dialectical tension between these tendencies and that this can be a good thing that propels us toward growth or evolution rather than keeping us mired in stagnation. Jensen may discount the idea of evolution, and excessive attachment to the idea can, paradoxically, be stultifying. But discounting it altogether might be equally so.

However, I believer that Umguy may have posted the best comment when he simply wrote:

It seems to me that even in Buddhist circles you still have to articulate, especially in order to help pass on, the experiences that meditation brings. Which is why it's vital to have a map that is well reasoned and comprehensive. Aren't things like right view and such about having a good Buddhist map of the world?We need both. The experience of meditation. And an intellectual map to help take it out into the world.

Right now, I feel more of a need to focus on the map than on the territory so that when I set out to explore the territory, I can do so with utmost efficacy. But when the day comes, if it comes, when I have internalized the map well enough to set it aside with the freedom to wander inviting side roads as well as purposefully walk the main ones, perhaps I will follow Bill's example and put practice above theory unless and until I become so lost that I need to pick the map back up.

"That'll Show Them For Calling Us Violent"

This is Ray Harris' thoughtful and informative response to my post of yesterday:

I think the Pope’s comments need to be taken in their proper context. I know of at least one Muslim spokesperson who appreciates the context. Waleed Aly, a director of the Victorian Islamic Council and a regular spokesperson wrote an opinion piece in the Melbourne Age (18/9). He says that:
“Pope Benedict’s speech was an academic address at a German university on an esoteric theological theme that had nothing to do with affronting Muslims. The apparently offending remarks were almost a footnote to the discussion.”
He goes on to say:
“But it seems some elements in the Muslim world are looking avidly for something to offend them. Meanwhile, governments looking to boost their Islamic credentials are only too happy to seize on this, to nurture it, for their own political advantage. At some point the Muslim world has to gain control of itself. Presently its most vocal elements are so disastrously reactionary, and therefore so easily manipulable. Here, the vociferous protests come from people who, quite clearly, have not bothered to read Benedict’s speech.”
Waleed goes on to be scathing of Muslim over-reaction, openly ridiculing some prominent Australian mullahs, including the grand mufti of Australia.
Now if the bloody Pope can’t make “esoteric” theological points at a university then who can?
But, alas, he has decided to offer a personal apology, not that it will really satisfy the fundamentalists. I liked the comment from a mullah in Pakistan, “all we want is for the Pope to be removed.” Oh, is that ‘all’ you want? Some obscure fundamentalist mullah in Pakistan ‘only’ wants the Pope to be sacked. Sounds a reasonable request to me, totally proportionate.
The bizarre thing about this is that the Pope’s speech was actually about religious violence. So how do some Muslims protest the suggestion that Islam is violent? Why, by threatening to assassinate the Pope and burning churches. As Waleed sarcastically says:
“There. That’ll show them for calling us violent.”

I'm still inclined to question the Pope's judgment. Did he really need to speak out against religious violence by quoting words to the effect that Mohammed taught evil? If the Pope didn't realize that Muslims would hear about this and that many would react with violent outrage, he seems shockingly naive. On the other hand, if he did anticipate the reaction he got, what were his motives for going ahead and saying what he did? Either way, I think he's cast himself in a dubious light, although not nearly as dubious as have the Muslims who've responded with violence and even with just harsh indignation but have said nothing against the violence.

On the other hand, Harris raises an excellent point when he asks, "Now if the bloody Pope can’t make “esoteric” theological points at a university then who can?" He should certainly be able to. Anyone should be able to. But 'should be able to' and 'can' or, rather, 'should' seem pretty far removed, and I don't know what we should do about it in the world as it is.

What do you think?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Stand Up to the Bullies?

Ray Harris makes some provocative points about Islam over at Open Integral. Here is the juice:

Islam has long felt the need to prove itself superior to the Abrahamic traditions that preceeded it. It is a competition that is largely driven by internal dynamics. If you come after Judaism and Christianity and claim that you are necessarily superior to them because you have the ‘final’ word of God then you are naturally in competition. In fact the very failure of these previous versions to submit and convert is an insult to God. Their existance is evidence of the failure to convince them about what should be perfectly obvious...It’s not that Muslims as inividuals are any different to any one else. This is not about people. It’s about ideology and doctrine. It’s about the internal logic of a belief that says it has the final and absolute word of the only God. Such a belief leads to fanaticism. And it leads to fanaticism in any religion...It’s also simply about bullying and intimidation. The fundamentalists know that their base is being steadily eroded by free speech. They know that the only way they can protect their absurd beliefs is by suppressing criticism. Islam has maintained its power by oppression. The very reason the gates of ijtihad were closed was to prevent Islam disintegrating into a thousand sects...Imagine this - every Muslim is given the freedom to question the Koran. The laws against blasphemy and apostasy are all removed. There are no consequences if you declare your disbelief or convert to another religion. What happens next?...We forget that in evey Christian (and Jewish) country we are free to disbelieve, that we are even free to criticize. In many Muslims countries you simply do not have such freedom. You have to be careful about what you say. Why? Because purist imams and mullahs will inspire their followers to kill you (and they do kill you)...The core beliefs of Islam are false. Islam needs to be roundly criticized. Mohammed made it all up. It was a fantasy. We do not have to kow-tow to myths. We do not have to be sensitive to the demands of bullies.

I'm no expert on Islam, but Ray's points about the religion seem sensible enough. If a religion claims to be based on God's exact words as revealed by His final and greatest prophet, then it stands to reason that its true believers will consider other religions inferior, and, to the extent that they claim divine sanction for ideas contrary to the one, true religion, heretical. It's also no wonder that these true believers will use intimidation and terror tactics issuing from the very law laid down by their one, true God to quash the kind of questioning and dissent within and criticism without the faith that could subvert their God's grand plan of a world united under His glorious rule.

Actually, while it's no wonder that this would happen, it doesn't seem entirely consistent with free will. For if we are free to choose to submit or not to submit to Allah, what's wrong with letting people be exposed to questioning and criticism of the "one true faith" whose proof of its legitimacy to the title can surely overcome all challenges? After all, we can freely choose to accept or reject this questioning and criticism, and it is surely nobler to believe even when we've encountered, considered, and dismissed the best reasons for not believing than it is to believe only because we don't know any other way to do. But try out this logic on the truest of the true believers and you might well be cursed or even beheaded to gleeful chants of "Allahu Akbar." Yet, I wonder how long it would take for Islam to erode or evolve the way Harris rightfully points out that Christianity has if the "purist imams and mullahs" and those in their sway were to follow my logic rather than their illogic and permit the freedom to question, challenge, and even reject the faith.

I also agree with Harris that the core beliefs of Islam, as I understand them, are false and that we should not kow-tow to the "bullies" who would suppress, by any means necessary or unnecessary, dissent. However, as I suggested yesterday, I still believe that the Pope showed poor judgment in saying what he did when and where he did. For it's one thing to kow-tow to bullies and quite another to say things you know or should know the bullies will react to with crazed violence that victimizes innocent Christians when there is no really good reason for saying them. Surely the Pope could have made whatever point he was trying to make without quoting an obscure 14th century figure who called Mohammed the purveyor only of "evil and inhuman" things.

He could have but he didn't, and I can't help but continue to wonder why.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Pope's Remarks

I don't know why the Pope quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor who said, "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." I'm inclined to believe that there is more than a modicum of truth in the emperor's words. But what was the Pope, the most prominent figure in Christendom, thinking when he inserted that quote into his speech and then delivered it at a public gathering? Is he THAT naive that he didn't know what repercussions it would have? Or was he so intent on delivering "the truth" that he didn't care about the repercussions? In either case, one must seriously question the soundness of his judgment.

But I have an even bigger question about why the scholarly and "holy" representatives of Islam whose responses I've read or heard offer no words of admonition or reproach to the "Muslims gone wild" over the Pope's remarks, choosing to scold only the Pope instead and demand that he apologize and atone for what he said.

Actually, I should have no real questions about this since it is exactly what I would have expected given what I know of the Muslim faith and have seen of Muslim behavior throughout most of the world. I have only a comment: The Muslim response to the Pope's remarks only reinforces their truth and my less than favorable opinion of the Muslim faith, and I quite suspect that I'm not alone in this regard.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Where Is the Pearl of Great Price?

Do not you believe that there is in us a depth so profound as to be hidden even to the one in whom it is?
– Saint Augustine

In talking about deeper levels of consciousness, metaphors can be helpful. So let’s talk about the “lake of the mind.” It is a deep lake, but we are familiar only with the surface. We know how to swim effortlessly on the surface; modern life is quite good at teaching us all kinds of ingenious strokes for this. It even supplies us with flotation devices that keep us bouncing pleasurably on the surface of life forever.

Yet over time we become aware of how much distress is involved in the struggle merely to stay afloat. For some reason, peace of mind simply doesn’t seem attainable; the mind keeps stirring up a never-ending succession of waves.

Life on the shimmering surface of consciousness, we may someday be forced to admit, isn’t everything it’s supposed to be. We come to the uncomfortable realization that there is simply no guarantee of security anywhere as long as we’re living on the surface of life. At some point, every sensitive person is ready to dive – deep into consciousness in meditation. He or she wants to find out whether something more reliable lies below. Often it is the spiritual teacher who gives us the courage to dive. We ask ourselves, “If he has done it, why can’t I?”
--Eknath Easwaran

I think I'm a fairly "sensitive" person in the way Easwaran means it. For it has long seemed to me that there's more to life than the way most of us live it--working a lot to play a little for superficial pleasure for a few decades before plummeting into the great unknown. Of course, there IS more to life than that for most of us. We know and revel in the deeper joys of loving and serving our families and friends and doing our jobs and hobbies well as expressions of our interests, talents, and virtues.

Yet it has long seemed to me that there may be more to life than even this for those fortunate few who are blessed with the ability and desire to find it. I'm not sure what to make of the fact that not only have I not found it, but I have also never even set a firm course for it. In a previous post, I explored this theme in some detail. I'd like to expand on it a little here.

Easwaran talks of how a spiritual teacher can help us to summon the faith and courage to dive into the foreboding depths of consciousness to discover the joyous Truth and security that awaits us there. But I think I'm far less afraid of drowning in those depths than I am of failing to learn how to reach and navigate them no matter how much time and effort I might channel into trying.

I took swimming lessons when I was a boy and struggled afterwards to practice and master what I was taught, but I never really learned to swim. I still flail and flounder my way through the water, and it is all I can do to stay afloat for even one lap of a modest sized pool without succumbing to breathless exhaustion. What if I spend countless hours following the instructions of some spiritual teacher--who may be a charlatan or the genuine article but, nevertheless, a poor match for me--and I end up no wiser or happier than I am now, and I've spent all that time flailing and floundering in the spiritual pool when I could have been on dry land reading, writing, or working at something else of definite benefit to myself and others?

Or what if I discover, instead, after all that precious time and exhaustive effort, that there are really no priceless treasures or anything else at the bottom of the pool of consciousness except the same cold water that's on the surface and hard concrete?

Yet it's interesting to speculate on what treasures my efforts might lead me to, and if my speculations seem plausible and inviting enough, I might find the motivation to make the requisite effort to actualize them. Some would say that if you wait for a compelling vision of paradise before you set out for it, you may never even take the first step much less reach your destination. Instead, you must simply choose a path, set out upon it, and keep walking until you get where you want to go or die trying. But I'm the kind of person who finds it difficult if not impossible to choose such an arduous path unless he's sufficiently convinced that it leads to where he wants to go and that where he wants to go is not a fanciful myth but a real place worth reaching.

I've never found Easwaran's path and destination as compelling as I might because it seems to focus too much on the world within and too little on the world without. That is, he talks about closing the eyes, diving into the depths of consciousness, and finding "the pearl of great price" there rather than in the trees and clouds, in the artifacts of human hands, or even in human beings themselves except to the extent that they embody or reflect some interior "essence" whose nature is ultimately not material but the immateriality of divine consciousness. I just can't square this with my sense that there is no ultimate separation betweeen inside and outside, consciousness and materiality, and, thus, no ultimate difference in quality or importance between them. In other words, it seems to me that I should be able to know "God" just as readily by walking--with eyes and ears fully open--through a forest or bustling big city as I can by detaching myself from the "blooming, buzzing confusion" of the world and plumbing the most remote recesses of my mind.

As I drove home from school the other day, I listened to Ken Wilber talk with Tami Simon about states of consciousness including "causal" and "non-dual" consciousness. He explained that spiritual practice is the progressive disidentification of one's Self with any phenomena or objects of consciousness until one identifies only with the formless field of objectless awareness that is the ground and "Witness" of all phenomena. And then, he explained, after one identifies only with consciousness without an object--the state of consciousness in ordinary deep, dreamless sleep or in an extraordinary meditative state--one can then concretely realize the non-dual state of identifying with the Witness AND all phenomena arising within it.

This made some kind of sense to me and seemed to be a way or the beginning of a way to conceptually reconcile inside with outside, consciousness with universe, except that it still seems to make consciousness prior and primary to materiality. That is, Wilber seems to be saying that the Witness of pure, formless consciousness somehow gives rise to or creates the "material world" and is our "original face" that existed before the universe flashed and banged into existence. I just can't square this with my sense that consciousness arises from a matter-energy substratum of sufficient organizational complexity and that there could have been and was no Witness before there was a universe. Of course, this would seem to make matter prior and primary to consciousness and to, therefore, make me guilty of the opposite sin of Easwaran's and Wilber's and contradict my own notion that materiality and consciousness are identical or, at least. coequal.

What to do? I don't know. I've repeatedly tried following Wilber's "pointing out instructions" to realizing non-dual "Big Mind" or Self. I haven't gotten very far with them. I've just re-begun reading Roger Walsh's Essential Spirituality with the aim of diligently employing all "7 central practices to awaken heart and mind." Maybe through this or some other means I will transcend less than compelling concepts and find the true "the pearl of great price" wherever it resides.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Will's Poem

I have trouble understanding and feeling moved by poetry. But I read a poem yesterday that I found very moving, beautiful, and hopeful at a time when so many of us were thinking sad, angry, hateful, and other dark thoughts about a past filled with death and destruction and about a future fraught with unimaginable peril. The poem comes from a guy named Will and can be found in the comments section of yesterday's post by Gagdad Bob over at One Cosmos. Here is the poem:

On occasion I find myself considering an image,
Perhaps not the one you might expect,
Not the plane nightmare frozen before impact,
Not the gout of fire,
Not the empty eye socket gash in the building,
Not any of those images but
Who really forgets?

Hmm? Oh, yes:
It's this image of two people
Standing on a ledge, probably
Between floors 80 to 90.
Very tiny in the picture, of course,
Dwarfed by immensities around them,
But if you look closely,
You can make out several things -
First, they are a man and a woman,
Second, they are holding hands,
Third, they are in the process
Of jumping -
They look for all the world
Like a couple jumping into
The shallow end of a pool
Or maybe over a rain puddle,
You know, with a dainty poise -

Now, here's what I have to consider:
We all know that animals, when
Confronted with fire, succumb to
Blind scrabbling panic -
Firemen tell of how when crawling
Down a smoke-drenched hallway
in a burning tenement building,
They have to be mindful of
Fleeing rats and cockroaches
That run right over them
In panicked hordes -
This couple on the ledge, however -
Well, did they even know each other?
Maybe not, and yet here they have
Agreed to a simple comforting of
One another by holding hands,
And clearly agreed to jump together,
a calm, agreed-upon decision -
God, would You explain this equation
To me?

I like to think that they were meeting
For the first time, having circled one
Another for their lifetimes, and then,
On that morning, recognized each other!
It's you! It's you!
Destined at last to hold hands!
Oh, but more, of course -

Long ago, at a Wisconsin resort,
I turned from the pier
And saw on the green slope
Behind me two girls, sisters, no doubt,
One perhaps five, the other eight,
Holding hands, and I had never seen
Anything so vulnerable as them,
Almost lost in the tangled thicket
As they stared at the lake,
Holding hands to comfort one another -
Which, I might add, is an image that
Has always come to me whenever
I feel hopeless about the world
And it saves me -
In the fullness of time
I will find you, girls,
and thank you -

And thank you, couple on the ledge -
What you did was not an act
Of defiance,
But it did defy the evil,
All of it, just that simple hand-holding,
The power of which
Held chaos in check,
Oh good for you,
Good for you,
Bravo! -

Yesterday, a mother showed me
Her infant baby girl in a crib,
And the baby stuck her arm up
And I held her tiny hand between my
Thumb and forefinger,
And a circle of Light encompassed us both
And we smiled at each other
On the ledge
Before we jumped -

A Rocky Start

My new bowling league began last night. I've never bowled in a league like it before. We bowl three games of doubles and three games of singles each night. The doubles teams were created by the bowlers with the lowest entering averages choosing their partner from the league roster. The person with the lowest entering average chose first, then the person with the second lowest average, and so on. Usually, each person chose the person with the highest entering average who had not already been chosen. The person who chose me is acknowledged to be one of the finest bowling coaches in the country.

I wanted to perform well not only because she's my teammate who chose me because she had faith in me, but also because she's such a great coach. I wanted to impress her discerning eye with my skills. Of course, I bowled terribly, and the other team beat us soundly. I didn't just score poorly. I executed even worse. I felt almost like a wobbly beginner, sometimes missing my target by feet rather than inches, and awkwardly bouncing the ball on the lane instead of rolling it smoothly like someone who knows what he's doing.

Of course, I don't know what I'm doing. I never have really. And that's why I've been bowling for forty years and am so mediocre. Because of my inability to understand the biomechanical principles behind good and bad bowling, I depend almost entirely on "feel" or "touch." If I'm bowling poorly, I have to just bowl my way out of it with sheer willpower, repetition, and haphazard trial-and-error adjustments rather than think my way out of my difficulties. Yes, I now have a superb coach to give me pointers if I ask for them. But what good are pointers if one doesn't understand them well enough to apply them and doesn't want to seem either stupid or as though he's stubbornly ignoring the pointers if he fails to apply them?

The best answer I can come up with is that I need to explain to my teammate that I have trouble understanding biomechanical principles and following instructions, but that if I ask her for advice when I'm struggling, I'll do my best to understand and apply it, because I want to do my very best for her as well as myself. I need to overcome my fear of revealing my cognitive weaknesses to others (and one of my purposes in writing so much about them here on this blog is to accomplish exactly that) and do my best to overcome or circumvent them with all the expert help I can get. And now I have an opportunity to receive some of the most expert bowling help I could ever wish for without having to pay a penny extra for it. I can pay simply by doing my darndest to use it to help myself and my teammate to win.

Even without her help, I managed to excecute and score significantly better the second set of three games and beat my able opponent three points to one. But that was singles competetion that benefitted only me and not my doubles partner. Next week, I hope I can do better for her as well as for myself, with or without her help.

Relaxing Our Grip

Each day is a little life; every waking and rising a little birth; every fresh morning a little youth; every going to rest and sleep a little death.
– Arthur Schopenhauer

My grandmother, my spiritual teacher, used to tell me that the pain we associate with the great change called death arises from our innumerable selfish attachments. One day she illustrated this in a simple way by asking me to sit in a chair and hold tight to the arms. Then she tried to pull me out of the chair. She tugged and pulled at me, and I held on tight. It was painful. She was a strong person, and even though I held on with all my strength, she pulled me out.

Then she told me to sit down again, but this time not to hold on anywhere, just to get up and come to her when she called. With ease I got out of the chair and went to her. This, she told me, is how to overcome the fear and pain of death. When we hold onto things – houses, cars, books, guitars, our antique silver teapot – we get attached and tied down.
--Eknath Easwaran

Eknath Easwaran is one of my favorite writers about spirituality. One major reason for this is his ability to illustrate abstract ideas with concrete and clear examples. Sometimes I think his ideas and illustrations may be too simple and that spiritual practice is not largely about meditating only by silently reciting sacred passages to oneself or about dispelling distracting thoughts and emotions by silently chanting an ancient mantram to oneself. Yet, there is something about his teaching that rings true to me, or, at least, true enough to incorporate within a broader and deeper understanding and approach to spiritual or integral practice.

Today's "thought for the day" is certainly no exception. Indeed, it seems uncommonly clear and compelling, even if it raises more questions than it answers. For, on the one hand, it seems indisputably true that so much suffering in this life comes from clinging to our possessions and loved ones such that we live in constant anxiety and fear of losing them or ache with the pain of having lost them. On the other hand, when we truly care about something, is it not natural and even desirable to do what we can to keep it alive and healthy or within our possession, or to mourn when we lose it?

I worry about losing my TV, books, car, computer, house, cats, friends, family, and wife someday, and I can only imagine how anxious I'd be about the possibility of losing my children, if I had any, to drugs, disease, accident, or crime. But if I didn't feel this concern, would I take appropriate steps to guard against these losses? Can I take appropriate steps without being motivated to do it by anxiety, fear, and a certain kind and amount of clinging?

The great sages seem to say not only that we can, but that we must if we're to know the joy and peace that surpasses understanding and know heaven either in this life or the next. But I still don't understand how it works. Maybe I don't need to. Maybe I just need to do what sages like Easwaran suggest, and someday I'll understand all I need to know, like the man in the Buddhist parable who removes the poisoned arrow from his body and lives, even if he never knows who made the arrow or shot him with it.

And perhaps I need to begin by relaxing my grip on the chair.

Monday, September 11, 2006

You Are the Sky

There is a famous saying: "If the mind is not contrived, it is spontaneously blissful, just as water, when not agitated, is by nature transparent and clear." I often compare the mind in meditation to a jar of muddy water: The more we leave the water without interfering or stirring it, the more the particles of dirt will sink to the bottom, letting the natural clarity of the water shine through. The very nature of the mind is such that if you only leave it in its unaltered and natural state, it will find its true nature, which is bliss and clarity. So take care not to impose anything on the mind, or to tax it. When you meditate there should be no effort to control, and no attempt to be peaceful. Don't be overly solemn or feel that you are taking part in some special ritual; let go even of the idea that you are meditating. Let your body remain as it is, and your breath as you find it. Think of yourself as the sky, holding the whole universe.
--Sogyal Rinpoche, in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Replies to Comments On Yesterday's Post

I discovered several new and interesting comments this morning to yesterday's post Be Peace. I've decided to address them here in a new post.

Counter Mag asks: "Is it possible to love someone and still put a bullet in their head?"

My reply: Outstanding question! I don't know if I could do it, especially if it wasn't to defend myself or someone else from actual, deadly aggression. But then I think I would be very hard-pressed to shoot my cat in the head either if he were terminally ill and suffering terribly, although I know other people who probably love their pets as much as I love mine (and that's a lot!) who have euthanized their own pet to spare it further pointless suffering. So, I think one CAN love someone and still take his life if it seems necessary. Or, if possible, imprison him for life rather than kill him, the same way we would, if possible, quarantine someone for life whom we loved or cared about who had an incurable, deadly, and virulently contagious disease rather than kill him. It would be more expedient to simply kill him. But when we love or care about someone or simply revere life, expedience is not our overriding consideration.

Counter Mag (I don't know if it's the same Counter Mag as above or a different one) echoes Colmar from Colmar3000 in saying: "If we choose to follow this teaching of pacifism, we too can be overrun by an aggressive military power that will then outlaw the teaching of all pacifistic religions."

My reply: I'm not advocating "pacifism," if by that term you mean an absolute rejection of any and all violent force. Neither, for that matter, is the Dalai Lama, who has said that the use of violent force has probably done more good than harm in some circumstances and could be justifiable in some circumstances. I'm advocating that we try to feel as much love and compassion for everyone as we can and allow that to temper our efforts to defend ourselves and enforce justice as much as is appropriate and practicable.

Counter Mag asks: " My friend.... what EXACTLY do you mean when you call someone that!"

My reply: I mean just what I say. I mean that I see (or am trying to see) you as a friend and not an enemy or as an unimportant somebody or nobody.

Shirley said: Would you please stop with all the insincere "my friend" b.s.? It's wearing a bit thin."

My reply: As I explain above, I'm not being insincere when I call someone that.

Thank you all for your comments.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Update on My Dear Friend

I spoke with my friend this morning. She's home from the hospital. The wonderful hospice people got her a hospital bed that's far more comfortable than her regular bed. They and her ex are also doing everything they can to make her comfortable. She doesn't know how long she has, but she's intent on tying up loose ends with her family and friends and on coming to peace with her circumstances.

I cherish every moment of every phone call with her knowing that each call could be our last. There are still awkward moments of silence and fumbling attempts to fill them. But I cherish even these, for the day may be fast approaching when the silence will be forever, and there will be nothing I can do to fill it.

Be Peace

Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
– Martin Luther King

All of us can play an important part in the conquest of violence. We can do this by throwing our full weight behind peaceful, effective programs for eliminating the situations from which violence arises. But just as importantly, we need to do everything we can to remove every trace of hostility in ourselves.

The violence that is flaring up on our streets and in many corners of the world is the inevitable expression of the hostility in our hearts. Hostility is like an infectious disease. Whenever we indulge in a violent act or even in hostile words, we are passing this disease on to those around us. When we quarrel at home, it is not just a domestic problem; we are contributing to turmoil everywhere.

A teacher of meditation in ancient India, Patanjali, wrote that in the presence of a man or woman in whom all hostility has died, others cannot be hostile. In the presence of a man or woman in whom all fear has died, no one can be afraid. This is the power released in true nonviolence, as we can see in the life of Mahatma Gandhi. Because all hostility had died in his heart, he was a profound force for peace.
--Eknath Easwaran

It's easy to find contempt, hostility, and hatred almost everywhere, including here in cyberspace. They are like a raging pandemic that infects our hearts and minds and whose outward symptoms of violence destroy our world, our quality of life, and our lives themselves. It isn't nearly as easy to find compassion, lovingkindness, respect, and resulting peace within and without. But if there is an ultimate antidote to hatred and violence in the world, it is surely not more hatred and more violence--which act, at best, as temporary palliatives and, at worst, destroy everyone affected--it is King's "method of love" that first sweeps through, fills, and vitalizes our individual hearts and minds and then innoculates those with whom we come in contact at home, in our communities, at work, and on the Internet.

As Thich Nhat Hanh says, if we want peace, we must BE peace.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Weblinks 9/7/06

Colmar3000 says the Dalai Lama is a wise man guilty of expressing the following "idiocy":

Recently an interviewer remarked to me, "Westerners have a great fear of death, but Easterners seem to have very little fear of death."

To that I half-jokingly responded, "It seems to me that, to the Western mind, war and the military establishment are extremely important. War means death--by killing, not by natural causes. So it seems that, in fact, you are the ones who do not fear death, because you are so fond of war.

We Easterners, particularly Tibetans, cannot even begin to consider war; we cannot conceive of fighting, because the inevitable result of war is disaster: death, injuries, and misery.

Therefore, the concept of war, in our minds, is extremely negative. That would seem to mean we actually have more fear of death than you. Don't you think?"

Colmar argues that it's disingenuous if not staggeringly ignorant to suggest that Easterners today as well as traditionally haven't been as prone to make war as anyone else, and he cites Sun Tzu, the Bhagavad Gita, the Chinese Empire, the Japanese samurai, the "fascist militarism of the Japanese Empire in WW2," North Korea's nuclear threats, and ancient and modern Tibetan history. But, Colmar says, after the Chinese conquered Tibet:

While the Chinese destroyed temples, murdered monks, raped nuns in public, and suppressed the teaching of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama used his wealth, power and prestige to arrange his personal escape, leaving his people and his country to the both literal and figurative rape of the Communist Chinese.

And just where did he escape to? Why to the very “militaristic” powers, India and the West, that he now campaigns against…

Traveling freely throughout the West, protected from the Chinese authorities by Western armies, he then uses that freedom to attack the very power that protects him!

I tend to agree with Colmar's conclusion:

If we choose to follow this teaching of pacifism, we too can be overrun by an aggressive military power that will then outlaw the teaching of all pacifistic religions.

But I take issue with his suggestion that the Bhagavad Gita advocates military conflict rather than the conquest of the internal obstacles to enlightenment, that the Dalai Lama's gentle admonitions against unnecessary violence and killing is an "attack" on the United States, and that the way the U.S. has used military force in Iraq and elsewhere recently is the only reasonable alternative to absolute pacifism.

In a Beliefnet reprint, Mary Beth Cain draws the following lesson from the recent death of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin:

Most, myself included, passed him off as a camera-hungry thrill seeker whose egomania was simply astonishing...But you know, I don't feel that way anymore. After reading about Irwin, and watching Larry King's 2004 interview with him, which was rebroadcast last night, I have to say that Steve Irwin was a man who lived life to the absolute fullest, and died doing what he loved...Irwin never let fear stand in the way of his love of life. He was out there risking, every day, and learning and growing and, well, living. His death is being called, of course, a tragedy...But is his death really all that tragic? I know a lot of people who are so afraid of dying that they end up afraid to live. So afraid of failure that they end up failing to try. It makes you ask the question, what's worse? Living an unlived life, or dying a lived one? We know what Irwin's answer would have been.

Debra Saunders has a different take on Irwin's death:

Irwin's other legacy is that he has passed onto the world's children the fanciful notion that nature is a theme park. He failed to respect the lethal side of his co-star creatures...When human beings mistake wildlife for Walt Disney characters, they fail to appreciate wild animals for what they truly are -- wild. Read: Not susceptible to boyish charm...That is why the proper way to view wildlife is not in a close shot next to Irwin's round face, but through a long lens, where they can be seen living in their own habitat. A crocodile is a wonder to behold because it is a crocodile, not because it snaps at Irwin's boot...As Wild Kingdom's Jim Fowler told Fox News' Bill O'Reilly Tuesday, when his show first aired, "people were just content with seeing the animal. Now they want, you know, confrontation with the animal. They want adventure. They want excitement. The technology and the little cameras get right in their mouth. So this stuff is going to continue to happen. It's going to get worse, I believe."...Irwin did not deserve to die -- but his death can hardly be considered a surprise. It was the predictable end that followed the marriage of a dangerous hobby with a dangerous conceit -- and better Irwin than the baby.

Scientist Jerry Coyne praises Fredrick Crews' collection of "epistemological" essays in Crews' book Follies of the Wise that debunk Freud, creationism, scientists' own attempts to reconcile their disciplines with religion, and deconstruction in literary theory. Here are some key quotes that Coyne takes from Crews' book:

“Intelligent design awkwardly embraces two clashing deities – one a glutton for praise and a dispenser of wrath, absolution, and grace, the other a curiously inept cobbler of species that need to be periodically revised and that keep getting snuffed out by the very conditions he provided for them. Why, we must wonder, would the shaper of the universe have frittered away some fourteen billion years, turning out quadrillions of useless stars, before getting around to the one thing he really cared about, seeing to it that a minuscule minority of earthling vertebrates are washed clean of sin and guaranteed an eternal place in his company?”

“The human race has produced only one successfully validated epistemology, characterizing all scrupulous inquiry into the real world, from quarks to poems. It is, simply, empiricism, or the submitting of propositions to the arbitration of evidence that is acknowledged to be such by all of the contending parties. Ideas that claim immunity from such review, whether because of mystical faith or privileged “clinical insight” or the say-so of eminent authorities, are not to be countenanced until they can pass the same skeptical ordeal to which all other contenders are subjected.”

Coyne concludes that "As science in America becomes more harried and debased by politics and religion, we desperately need to heed Crews' plea for empiricism."

Finally, a recent study suggests that drinking fruit and/or vegetable juice three or more times per week lowered the risk of Alzheimer's disease by 76%. Scientists speculate that non-vitamin antioxidant compounds called polyphenols in fruit and vegetable juices may be responsible, and they are looking to do studies testing this hypothesis.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Weblinks 9/6/06

Everybody else is doing it, so I might as well too. Starting today, I'm going to start posting short summaries and excerpts of writings on the Web that I find especially interesting along with links to them. I probably won't do it every day or even most days, and I probably won't have nearly as many links as Bill at Integral Options Cafe or Tom at Blogmandu. But I'll do what I can when I can.

Will Buckingham at has More on Life Without Free Will. His money quote:

"Free will, on the other hand, is a theory about how choice happens, about what is involved in making the choice. And this is a very different kind of thing. I think we can straightforwardly acknowledge the phenomenon of choice whilst calling into question the coherence or the usefulness of the theory of free will that lies behind that phenomenon."

Will proceeds to dismiss the idea that free will means random occurrence or "planted in our mind by some God." He believes that free will doesn't "account for experience when you pay close enough attention, for example in meditation." He goes on to explain that he isn't interested in "deriving a theory of choice or consciousness" as much as "unpicking the tangle of stories around the subject of free will, both by asking of these stories but is it really like that? and by paying closer attention to what is actually happening." His goal is to see if understanding the true nature of will can lead to "ataraxia – freedom from disturbance, amid the hubbub of the world." I agree with those who believe that it can.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed a bill recently passed by the California legislature here in Sacramento that would have provided healthcare coverage to all Californians under a single-payer system administered by a new agency called the California Health Insurance Agency. He argues that the bill would have "cost the state billions and lead to significant new taxes on individuals and businesses, without solving the critical issue of affordability." But Sheila Kuehl, the Democratic state senator from Santa Monica who sponsored the bill, replied that the bill would actually save the state money in health care costs. "Where there are no cost controls at all now, and enormous administrative overhead and profit for insurance companies, there would have been a transparent system that actually would succeed in making health care coverage affordable in California," she explained. For the record, Schwarzenegger's Democratic opponent Phil Angelides also opposed the measure, although, interestingly enough, he supported it in his campaign against his Democratic opponent Steve Westly in the state primary. I believe in a single-payer or some kind of system that provides readily affordable healthcare to everyone, and I believe that we can find a way to do it if we want to badly enough.

Colmar3000 believes that the kind of angry, doctrinaire criticism of America and Israel that we attribute to political and economic "liberalism" is a version of blue-memed fundamentalism derived from the secular religion of Marxism. He quotes these words from a conservative website:

The decline of religion does not mean that the "need" for religion disappears. Most of us still crave a meaningful picture of the world and our place in it, an identification of the good and the evil, and an assurance that in the end the good (i.e. people like ourselves) will triumph.For years Communism was the opiate of the secular materialists, an apocalyptic creed which filled the chosen with assurance of their righteousness and election.

So too with anti-Americanism, a sect of that old-time Marxist religion. This doctrine knows the font of evil in the world — the West and especially America — whose deadly sins of "imperialism" and "colonialism" and "racism" have created a fallen world of suffering and exploitation, a world whose redemption depends on battling the power and influence of the wicked militarists and global capitalists. Or as one sign from last week's "anti-war" rally in New York succinctly put it, "Bush is a Devil."

America is guilty and must atone for its sins by abandoning its power and pouring vast sums of money into its Third World victims, for only then will the golden age of peace, equality, and universal tolerance come about."

As much as I hate to admit it, I think there may be some truth in these words. I say I "hate to admit it," because I don't want to encourage Colmar to continue with his totally one-sided bashing of liberals. He argues that he criticizes liberalism and not conservativism not because conservatism has nothing to criticize, but because he's trying to persuade his predominately liberal readers to open their minds to the shortcomings of their own beliefs and behaviors rather than his merely "preaching to the choir." But I say that if he keeps going the way he is, he'll either have no readers to speak of, or he'll be preaching to an overwhelmingly conservative choir. Nevertheless, I think his posts yesterday as well as most days are worth reading.

Matt Furey tells of taking a "Zen walk" along the beach with his inquisitve young son:

"Daddy, why do you want to clear your mind?"

"I want to clear my mind because during the day I think about
many things. But when I walk I either focus on them at a higher
level - or I let them go."

"Why do you want to let go of certain things?"

"Because sometimes we try to force things. We try to use our
mind too push through. And oftentimes it is when we relax and
let go that the breakthrough happens."

"How long are we going to walk?" asked Frank.

"2000 steps," I said.

"Why 2000?"

"Because it's the number I've chosen."

"Why you don't choose 1000 or 5000 or 10,000?"

"Because 2000 takes a half hour and I want the meditation
to take a half-hour."

"What if I get tired."

"You won't get tired if you count and focus on your breathing," I said.

"But why count and focus on my breathing?"

"So you don't think about dumb things like getting tired."

"Why if I think about getting tired I'll get tired?"

"Because energy goes where you put it. Focus on being tired
and you'll get tired. Focus on breathing and counting and there's
no room in your mind for tired thoughts."


"Because your mind is designed to focus on one thing at a time?"


"So you don't go crazy."

"Are people who focus on more than one thing at a time crazy?"

"If they're not yet, they will be soon," I said.

Finally, I don't know how much we can believe this study, given its less than optimal design, but it just may show that alcohol abuse not only causes neurocognitive deficits, but also that stopping drinking can undo virtually all of them except those involving spatial processing. However, this study should also give me some pause before enjoying more drunken pleasures. For it suggests that abusing alcohol may not only cause permanent brain damage in the way of neurocognitive deficits, but that the kind of deficit that seems to plague me the worst is the one most likely to be irreversible. There's no doubt that I "abused" alcohol last Saturday. And even though that level of abuse is exceedingly rare with me and any abuse whatsoever is quite infrequent, who's to say that it might not be frequent enough to cause me lasting problems I don't need?