Revolutionary Empathy

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Anthropomorphic scarecrow Ann Coulter makes her living by being publicly and gleefully abhorrent. But her hate-cred took a potentially fatal hit this week with one simple revelatory tweet.

On Friday, in response to Senator Marco Rubio’s insistence that the child tax credit in the GOP tax bill be expanded, she released the following statement into the Twittersphere:

We singles live empty lives of quiet desperation and will die alone. Now Rubio is demanding that we also fund happy families with children who fill their days with joy.

Boo-fucking-hoo, you anorexic Gorgon. Too little, too late with the inadvertent humanity that finally found expression in the only honest, albeit whiny and self-pitying public statement you’ve ever made. But I didn’t commence this post for the purpose of taking easy potshots at Ms. Coulter. I am writing this as a reminder to myself and others that no matter how hidden someone’s humanity may be, suffering is always at the root of expressions of bigotry and hatred. This oftentimes subconscious suffering can take many forms: loneliness, self-loathing, insecurity, perceived emasculation, doubt, fear, ennui, etc. Of course, we all feel such existentially uncomfortable emotions from time to time, but those of us who choose to analyze and work through our personal neuroses generally find ourselves reasonably capable of peaceful coexistence with our fellow travelers. Perhaps instead of viewing our comparatively well-nurtured acceptance of human diversity as a virtue, we should see it as a blessing — a fortunate genetic (or even karmic, if that’s your thing) accident. This is the only way for caring human beings to include the worst among us in their field of compassion.

Last night, I watched a documentary about surviving members of the Nazi SS. While a handful of the elderly Germans interviewed expressed remorse for their part in wartime atrocities all those years ago, an equal or greater number of these doddering “Jerries” were as stubbornly anti-Semitic as ever; one of them even began tearing up when reminiscing about a particularly inhumane diatribe from his Fuhrer that he had had the honor of attending as a teen. There is nothing left for these men and their confounding ideology. For decades, they have watched “The Motherland” evolve into a democratic and multi-cultural society while public expression of National Socialist Weltanschauung became encoded as a criminal act. Yet these feeble old men still hate with all of their remaining might, seemingly as confident as ever that institutional hatred is the first step towards a real Germanic Utopia. I suspect that subconsciously, to a man, they are well aware of the fact that the real source of their rabid dissatisfaction isn’t the non-Aryan population of the world but their own deep-seated insecurities.

Many of the Buddhist practices in which I engage are designed to expand one’s compassion to include all sentient beings without exception. I’m sure I don’t need to identify the public figure who more than anyone else has made the nurturing of this mindset dauntingly challenging for me. However, my current inability to feel empathy towards this despicable man-child is a result of my imperfect view, not his loathsome words and actions. When I indulge in willful Schadenfreude towards this man (or anyone I deem similarly “subhuman”), I do so from my own secret reserve of subconscious suffering. If I were to honestly answer the question “would I rather he be free from the suffering behind his hatred or see him brutally punished for it?”, my reply wouldn’t be the one that indicates a willingness to take the high road. In other words, I (and many others, of course) allow his inhumanity to infect and distort my alleged values. All this does is keep the circle of delusion in motion.

Compassion for an adversary is not acceptance of his or her harmful actions. When someone causes deliberate suffering, it is imperative that they be somehow neutralized in as non-violent a manner as possible. But feeling compassion for someone laboring under the yoke of ignorance is a natural reaction to the understanding that egocentric individuality is an illusion.

Ann Coulter made a profound admission of human vulnerability with one little 140 character dispatch. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for T***p to do the same. So in lieu of that, I am going to try to remember the following things whenever my distaste for him rises to the level of unhealthy disdain: 1) He is incapable of feeling love; 2) He is fundamentally unlovable; 3) His entire sense of self-worth is predicated on imaginary things like money and power and victory; 4) He is incapable of seeing the beauty inherent in children and animals; 5) He is frightened at his own inability to escape his self-made prison of malignant ego; 6) He is possibly the loneliest human being in the Western Hemisphere.

Ask yourself: would you trade places with this sad, pathetic man for any amount of money in the world? I’m going to hazard a guess that you answered in the negative. This is all you need to keep in mind if you wish to continue resisting acts of cruelty while simultaneously feeling sadness for the soul-crushing suffering at their core. This is right view. And it’s a son-of-a-bitch.  It’s also as radical and revolutionary a mindset as one can possibly adopt.  Viva la Revolucion!

Amnesiacs Raging At Ghosts

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If soap opera script writers are to be believed, a case of total amnesia resulting from a blow to the head is quite a common occurrence. And if cartoon script writers are to be believed, all it takes to reverse this condition is another blow to the noggin of equal force. This is pure fiction, of course. People do not forget the details of their identities and personal lives while retaining the ability to walk, talk, read, write and drive a car. There is no “identity lobe” in the brain that could suffer damage while the areas responsible for language, reason, impersonal memory and the application of motor skills continue to function normally. Regardless, I’d like to play with this idea for a moment. What if this type of amnesia actually befell a person? I’m not talking about memory loss resulting from dementia, alzheimers, drugs or psychosis, but a complete inability to recall one’s name, spouse, occupation, religious faith, political associations, family or friends while retaining the ability to communicate and function normally in all other ways. My guess is that someone “suffering” from such a condition would be the sole man or woman on Earth who knows what it feels like to be fully, naturally human. This person would be just like a staggeringly precocious and intellectual infant, yet he or she would be utterly free of regret. Whether you’re a mindfulness advocate perpetually admonishing others to live in the present moment or just a fan of the “Look Who’s Talking” franchise, you’d almost certainly find an individual so afflicted most fascinating and you might even envy their situation.

In a broader sense, every single one of us might just have such a case of amnesia and if so, it’s far from enviable. Despite the continuing march of scientific discovery, no one has yet been able to prove that the phenomenal Universe is anything other than a product of mind. A projection of consciousness that adjusts its hallucinatory images and sensations according to the beliefs and expectations of its spectators who are also nothing more than projections of consciousness. I’m speaking once again of pantheism, the theory that what we call “God” is every one of us. It basically posits that Consciousness is all there is and at some point, this Consciousness decided to play a game of hide and seek with itself. In order to play this game, of course, it needed more than one participant so it splintered into countless life forms all of whom are immediately saddled with amnesia as to “their” true identity. The game thus initiated, each of us run to and fro trying to figure out why we’re here, what’s our purpose and what awaits us after the deaths of our physical bodies. But we can never really hope to get those answers because of this very same self-inflicted amnesia. Refusing to admit defeat, we instead just started making shit up and repeating it with such frequency that slightly varied arrangements of this shit formed all of our personal belief systems. A caveat, in case this wasn’t clear: while this idea makes perfect sense to me, it is still just one more metaphysical best guess and I can offer no proof of its veracity. Therefore, my belief in this theory isn’t any different than a child’s belief in the Easter Bunny — or an adult’s belief in the Holy Trinity, Allah or Xenu. In fact, what it has most in common with these other theisms is that it appeals to the particular tendencies of my ego and therefore, contemplation of its implications is a meaningless exercise. It is precisely this ego and its misapprehension of the self as an independent and eternal entity that must be debunked in the spiritual practices aimed at liberation. Despite its insubstantiality, it is the sole idea from which we must liberate ourselves if we wish to vanquish neurosis.

All of that was a pretense for me to answer some very compelling questions recently posed by Tom Being Tom as part of his Liebster Award acceptance. Like me, he recently read the excellent book “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari — a book I highly recommend to everyone who reads — and his questions are infused with the subject matter of this incredibly fascinating and refreshingly philosophical history of mankind. Aside from the upcoming Q&A format, I think I can tackle his inquisitions without drastically changing the theme already established. Let’s proceed, shall we?

According to Harari, what separates man from beast is man’s ability to create stories that unite us into larger and more formidable numbers than any other creature on Earth. It may also be what separates our large groups from one another. Throughout history, man has created these stories and mythologies to not only explain nature, but to unite peoples. Of the hundreds of thousands of gods man has created, do you still believe in one? If so, why? Have you ever considered this question before?

I do not believe in any gods, per se, at least not of the popular anthropomorphic variety. By the same token, it would be inaccurate for me to identify as an atheist due to my predilection for pantheism described above. Not only have I considered this question before, but I’ve spent so much time in the futile contemplation of it that it has actually become its own obscuration — a way of engaging in discursive and irrelevant thought at the exclusion of the type of contemplation that dissects and defuses the ignorance inherent in such pointless eternalism. This is why Gautama Buddha allegedly answered a disciple’s theistic questions with the deceptively simple answer, “I don’t know.” He was trying to steer this student away from such a contemplative double-bind as that which we all still foolishly entertain. I am leveling this same criticism at everyone who may be reading this, of course, because not only is it the primary driver of our collective and individual suffering, it is the only one. The question of god is absolutely meaningless and it compounds our neuroses.

While the pantheist aspect of Hinduism may satisfy a certain intellectual curiosity for me, it does nothing to alleviate my delusion or even bolster my feelings of universal equanimity due to the fact that it is, after all, just another concept. Therefore, of the major world religions, the one from which I draw most liberally is Buddhism. Before cultural norms and superstitions began to attach themselves to this amorphous wisdom tradition, questions of reincarnation and the Bardo had no place in its cosmology. In fact, it can be said with some accuracy that the pure core of Buddhist thought dispenses of a cosmological theory altogether. That’s exactly the point. The reason Buddhism remains the major religion with the least number of adherents worldwide is due to its uncomfortable insistence on dismantling our precious egos. Here in the West, it is almost a heresy. There are only two pillars that form the base of Buddhist thought: interdependence and impermanence. And it just so happens that those two realities are the most distasteful to our sense of self-importance and our addiction to attaching invented meaning to our lives. The discomfort that arises from questioning our deeply ingrained sense of self is exactly what motivated people to create pacifying myths that purport to infuse reality with sense and purpose. But once a myth is established, it develops a mind of its own and insidiously infects every single person trapped in its cultural orbit. This can be seen quite clearly in the West in the way our alleged atheists express themselves in the very same religious language of extremes: things can be viewed nihilistically or eternalistically at the exclusion of all views potentially contained in the vast chasm between those two poles.

An example. Do you remember XTC’s 1980s hit “Dear God”? This purportedly subversive piece of pop sacrilege is nothing more than a self-contained contradiction. I would have expected more from the normally cerebral Andy Partridge, but maybe he was just trying to fulfill some contractual obligation for his record label and thus didn’t put much thought into the lyrics. The song reiterated the most common yet ridiculous mental habit of modern man: the tendency to attempt to negate the existence of God through anger at the very same God allegedly disbelieved by the one who is angry with it. In the final verse, Andy accuses God of drowning babies, waging wars and a host of other atrocities caused by his meddling in our earthly affairs. Then, after this exposition of the charges brought against the Creator, Mr. Partrdige perplexingly concludes, “…if there’s one thing I don’t believe in — it’s you, dear God.” What?! How could one of the premier artisans in the realm of thinking-man’s rock entertain such nonsense? Do you disbelieve the myth or are you angry at its central character? You cannot allege that you don’t believe in god in one breath while in the next detailing your petty grievances against it. If you are truly an atheist, you can only shine your spotlight of judgment on something other than god since you’ve allegedly relegated the very notion of “god” to the realm of fairy tales. If you claim to harbor no theism whatsoever, expressing anger at god is the same as raging against the inhumanity of The Grinch. This is because the whole myth game is rigged to create a convenient scapegoat. If you really wish to give a good ass-chewing to the entity behind your suffering and confusion, all you can do is yell into a mirror. But that would be too much like taking personal responsibility for your own lot in life and we have made what should be the only worthwhile human endeavor into an iron-clad social, psychological and cultural taboo. To fill the void created by this refusal to engage in uncomfortable introspection, God entered stage left.

I am of the belief that morality and ethics are independent of our myths. Those of religious faith who also feel empathy, compassion and forgiveness do so despite their faiths. Those who have little or no compassion hold up their faith as flimsy proof of their pitiful reserve of morality. Therefore, I think that the value of our mythology has passed. Whereas it once had the power to unite formerly independent pockets of culturally-diffuse humanity, it long ago turned a corner and became the very thing that divides and devours us. The only way to break out of this imaginary yet powerful force of myth is to tame your own mind in such a way that it no longer harbors the anxious desperation that relies on such mythology. In other words, you need to let yourself feel deep down in your gut the truth that you do not have an existence independent of everyone and everything else and that in the not-too-distant future, you are going to die. For the purposes of vanquishing delusion and its attendant suffering, you must also dispense of such eternal concepts as heaven, hell and an eternal soul. If these things be true — and again, there is no way to prove that they are or aren’t — they still do nothing to solve our most basic human problem of ignorance and thus deserve no acclaim whatsoever. The only way to discover your “eternal self” is to paradoxically understand that there is no such thing. The longer we continue to model our society and our sense of self on these dualistic myths, the deeper into the quagmire of suffering and strife we sink. If you’re an atheist, be a fucking atheist. That means when your cat dies, you do not have the option of shaking your fist at the sky at the unfairness of it all. Right view does not recognize fairness. Justice is a notion born of a gross misunderstanding of what and who we are in relation to each other. So what do you do? You shed a few tears for Fluffy and you move on in the knowledge that cats, like everything else, are by their very nature impermanent. And if that sounds cold, it’s only because it subconsciously offends your ego that congratulates itself for such natural drives as kindness to animals. Yet once an organism dies, it no longer needs your kindness. These kinds of after-the-fact declarations of love and affection only benefit the one feeling them. Fluffy is utterly unaware of your tears and even if she witnessed your touching display of grief, she still probably wouldn’t give a shit.

In summary, here’s a suggested practice: try to spend the next week blaming no one and nothing for negative events or moods that might arise. For those who are a bit more advanced than that, try fully experiencing whatever comes without applying the labels of negative or positive to it at all. If you can manage to do this even sporadically, you are on the doorstep of liberation. God need not apply.

By the same notion, we create more than just gods, we create imaginary borders and mythical unions called “nations.” We then exalt our own nation as the greatest one. Do you believe your nation is the greatest one? If so, why?

The latter part of this question is something I can answer quite succinctly: hell no. As imaginary notions go, the United States of America may just be the most dangerous of them all and this was true long before the advent of T***p. The US in its very short history has been the initiator of almost every major war fought since its inception and has incarcerated more of its own citizens than any other “free” nation on the planet. There are, of course, countries that treat their citizens with far more immediate cruelty, but none of them strut around like peacocks proclaiming to be the “greatest country in the world” or even more ironically, the “Land of the Free”. Fuck the United States of America. If that last statement rattled or offended you, then you are clinging desperately to a phantasm to bolster your individual self-esteem through association with an idea designed to foster a feeling of collective self-esteem. Do you see the relation to the god myth here? It’s the same psychological drive to invent meaning from meaninglessness. Ditto for the imaginary notions of money, culture and language. So really, for me to have started this paragraph with a scathing rebuke of one myth in comparison to others was nothing more than an illustration of this tendency to reify the legends we pull out of our asses. Clearly, I have just as long a way to go in achieving something approaching right view as anyone.

Take this quiz. Report back to me your coordinates on the grid. If you’ve taken it before, please do so again. Were you surprised by your results? If you took it before, have your results changed?

Your Political Compass
Economic Left/Right: -6.75
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.74

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Do you believe that man has ever stepped foot on the moon?

Inasmuch as this question assumes the existence of such a celestial body, yes, I do. Remember when conspiracy theories used to be fun? Questioning the moon landing along with implicating thousands of shadowy people in the assassination of JFK used to be very entertaining ways of wasting time on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Then, and very recently at that, the kooks who tend to really buy into such far-fetched theories and unfounded doubts became the loudest and most influential voices in society. The lunatics are having their day and if you think that’s anything less than an extreme existential threat to the species, you’re not paying attention. Just to clarify: the earth is round. It revolves around the sun. The moon is a satellite of the earth. It is close enough for modern conveyances to reach it. Oh, and there is photographic proof of man’s landing upon its surface for those who still believe the information gleaned by their senses. If that last thing seemed unnecessary to point out, then take a look at the next high profile civilian-shot or lapel-cam footage of a cop beating the living shit out of an unarmed “suspect” and compare what you saw with your own eyes to the almost always successful defense of the act as being somehow “proper police procedure”. It would be threatening to the system to admit that brutality itself is what cops consider “proper police procedure” so instead, shifty attorneys in the employ of police unions endeavor to make us question our own powers of perception. Incidentally, this is the one and only ploy utilized by the current occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in an attempt to cover their criminal tracks.

Is Bigfoot real?

Maybe. This central figure of modern cryptozoology seems to have some compelling evidence to back it up, but often this very evidence gets debunked years after it was released into the public eye. It seems to always be described as a primate and it is rarely endowed with any sort of supernatural abilities, so its existence as just one more specimen of the animal kingdom is very possible — perhaps even more so than the already verified existence of the unlikely platypus. However, the odds of Bigfoot’s reality become more and more slim with every forest habitat we destroy. The fewer untouched areas of wilderness that are left on the planet, the less likely it becomes that there is an as yet undiscovered primate inhabiting them.

If we are on the verge of technology that would allow a human life to continue indefinitely, as some believe, would you choose to do so?

A thousand times no. This question brings us right back to our central neurosis – the misguided desire for immortality. First of all, nobody ever seems to really think this through. Immortality would be a curse, not a blessing. An event that begins must, by definition, end. Without such an ingrained death wired into an organism as the natural pole to its inception, it would be impossible to appreciate the very fact of being alive. Remember Fluffy? The only reason she was able to lay around and puke on your furniture for 15 years or so is because she was destined to die from her very first breath of kittenhood. If you really want to celebrate her life, you must understand that the death aspect of it is essential to the whole process that she was (and still is as her constituent parts rot and disintegrate somewhere in your back yard). An immortal life form is an oxymoron. Learn to view it as such.

If we are on the verge of technological and societal achievements that would allow us to feed, clothe, and shelter all human beings on Earth at zero cost, as some believe, should we do so?

YES — absolutely. If our knowledge and resulting technologies can’t be used in service of the basic needs of all people, it is nothing more than vanity. At the present, our technology is forging a questionable evolutionary path that we refuse to acknowledge due to our addiction to convenience at all costs. More often than not, when friends “get together” these days, what that really means is they are sitting in close proximity to one another while at the same time completely ignoring each other in favor of their stupid fucking distraction devices. We have happily allowed technology to vastly increase our ego-driven antisocial tendencies, but we still fool ourselves into thinking that we’re communicating with others when we tap furiously on a schmutz-covered touchscreen, oblivious to the real people all around us to whom we could be communicating via that antiquated device called “speaking”. This is also just one more attempt at controlling our environment. The rise of “smart” home devices like Alexa (just an improvement upon “The Clapper” of the early 90s) illustrates our folly in bending over backwards to achieve maximum control over our artificial environments when the real power that so few of us seek anymore is to intuitively understand our inherent symbiotic relationship with nature. But the overwhelming feeling that would result from such a return to our roots would be an understanding of our inter-dependence — again, a truth that offends our anxiety-ridden desire for independence and immortality. Your iPhone holds no answers nor does it alleviate suffering but it does further solidify your delusions of self-importance. I wish this were nothing more than a fad with a correspondingly short shelf life, but clearly that’s not the case. At the very least, though, can’t we please press at least some of our limited funding and brilliant minds in the service of altruism? You can still have your precious phones, I promise you. But maybe while you’re busy retweeting another stupid meme, some poor kid on the other side of the globe can eat today.

I think I’ve pontificated more than enough for today, eh? Before I take my leave, though, I’d like to make one final statement. Usually when I compose a long-winded, finger-wagging diatribe of this nature, I tend to dial back some of the things I’ve said in the comments section when faced with a reader who thinks they have a uniquely personal reason for being exempt from such universal truths or the application of the antidotes to human ignorance. Comments like “Yeah, I understand what you’re saying, Paul, but in my case, I have no choice because…” will not be entertained in the wake of this post. You are not unique or precious and you have no legitimate “but”s to constitute a fly in my philosophical ointment. Nor do I, of course. There are only two approaches to this mysterious thing called life: ignorance or wisdom. The way of ignorance is always defended by declarations that begin with the words “yeah, but…”. So just for today, please deposit your buts in the ashtray located conveniently at the exit. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.

Fabric Softener

 

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I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. – The Beatles

Morgan Freeman really gets around these days.  While hosting the brilliantly mind-bending series Through The Wormhole for several seasons on the Science Channel, someone over at National Geographic clearly saw how perfect his temperament and delivery worked in the service of exploring foreign and often misunderstood ideas.  And what ideas are more rampantly misunderstood than the ones that inform people’s religious beliefs?   So earlier this year, NatGeo hired him to host a miniseries entitled The Story of God and now, as almost a companion piece to that religion-based series, he hosts a similar show called The Story of Us.  Pantheist that I am, I see little difference between the subject matter of these two recent programs and Mr. Freeman approaches both topics with his characteristic respect and genuine curiosity.  But I’ll get back to Easy Reader shortly.  First, we must take our own little trip through the wormhole.

The overarching aim of the paradoxically aimless discipline of Mahayana Buddhism is for the practitioner to attain a state of undisturbed equilibrium through the perfect conjoining of Prajna (wisdom, right view) and Karuna (compassion, lovingkindness).   I’ve talked an awful lot here about concepts that I feel illustrate the correct apprehension of reality – right view — in a necessarily awkward and imperfect attempt to show that the ideas explored by science and spirituality and philosophy and meditative awareness are all artificially separated, relatively specified aspects of an unbreakable Whole.  But if you view such expositions as being applicable only to the wisdom aspect of the Prajna-Karuna field, then it’s a safe bet you do not understand them correctly.  It is the job of that ornery yet insubstantial bogeyman we call the Ego to focus attention on one step of the grand dance at a time, as this reinforces the illusion that the observer himself is also a distinct and unique thing with definable boundaries.  This is what gives us our erroneous sense of self and it is at the heart of all interpersonal struggle.  A more holistic viewpoint would clearly help to lessen our anxieties, all of which have one single mental error as their basis: the mistaken belief in the self as an inherently existing entity with the skin marking its definitive boundary from and against everything else.

Meditation is the method by which one can begin to feel the reality of Universal interconnection rather than just understand it intellectually, but more detail about that is beyond the scope of this post.   For now, suffice it to say that Einstein’s use of the word fabric in describing the space-time continuum was more ubiquitously applicable than he even realized.  He was attempting to illustrate the idea of curved space in describing the movements of celestial bodies.  However, space itself is inseparable from the perceived objects within its field.  Space does not contain things, nor are things surrounded by space.  Every single phenomenal “thing” is, in fact, a space-thing where every outline or boundary is shared and hence non-existent.  But in order to really know this, one cannot rely on words or concepts – the very symbols for reality that we confuse as being reality.  That is the entire problem.  I leave it to you to decide how or even if you wish to embark upon such metaphysical explorations, but not before adding with a bit of urgency that at the current crossroads we face as a species, it is very important that you do.

Much like the undefinable physical boundaries discussed above, wisdom and compassion exist interdependently.  I could say that it is important to understand Universal interconnection in the scientific sense because it helps one to understand the logic of developing compassion and empathy for those who are simply different aspects of the same shared field.  Or, conversely, I could tell you that it is vital to practice compassion for self and others because it will expand your view of humanity’s (and by extension, the Universe’s) interconnectedness.   It really makes no difference because both of those differently worded statements actually made the exact same observation.  Is your skin the boundary of you or is it the boundary of the space around you?  The answer to both questions, of course, is “yes”.

The ego’s job is to discriminate.  Although the word itself has a very bad reputation, this imaginary yet effective illusion of individualism is also essential for navigating life in the phenomenal world.  Just because there is no subatomic separation between your constituent elements and those of a brick wall you are approaching doesn’t mean you should just keep walking into the wall.  I assure you, that wouldn’t be a pleasant experiment to conduct.  So we must necessarily pick and choose when a situation calls for Ultimate wisdom or relative wisdom.  Relative wisdom discriminates; it is what tells you to stop walking because there’s a big fucking wall just inches from your nose.  Ultimate wisdom understands that just because you wisely avoided an unnecessary and almost certainly unpleasant broken nose doesn’t really mean that you did anything.  You and the wall did not do a dance, but collectively you are a dance.  The wall was just as essential to the waltz as you were, and yet there was only one dancer, that can be defined simply (if esoterically) as Self.  The capital S is meant to differentiate it from our usual egocentric definition of the word self, to align it with the Hindu concept of the Atman, the god-spark, the breath of Brahman that both animates and is all things.  That’s it.  Whether your mind embraces this to mean that there is only one Thing or that there is not actually a single Thing in existence is irrelevant.   The way to proceed from there – from right understanding – is the same either way.

Now we see Lila, the grand dance, and all of its constituent movements.  These movements are no longer composite elements but literally elegant steps in an infinite masquerade ball – a way of playing with the phenomenal world gracefully, artfully, in the unspoken knowledge that no one is doing anything nor is anything doing us.  Actor and action are inseparable, as are life and death, inside and outside.  1-2-3-4, step ball heel toe, grand jete, repeat.

Back to the relative action.  Most of us are rightly very worried at the current state of our human interactions due to the growing influence of gross ignorance upon them.  “What can we do?” has become a rhetorical question born of sad desperation.  In truth, none of us can do a damn thing about the cruel machinations of nationalism and totalitarianism sweeping across the globe, but if you need to feel like there’s something you can do, go enter a booth somewhere in your district next November and pull the levers that make you feel best about yourself.  Someone will even give you a little sticker to pin to your lapel on your way out broadcasting to the world that you just pulled the best levers a person can possibly pull.

But if you really want to help, you need to continually remind yourself of the inextricable bond between all life forms until it becomes clear that charity is not helping others, nor is it helping yourself, it is simply helping and this is where Karuna merges with Prajna to form The Great Perfection.  This is already what you are, as am I, as is everyone, but without the proper experiential understanding, it cannot be integrated into the elegance of the dance, which is another way of saying that if you suffer from the delusion of self you will never understand the sheer power of the lovingkindness of Self.  The reason this is an essential thing to grasp is because once it is understood, you will be naturally guided at all times to the most helpful actions towards seeming “others” because you will know in a very real sense that he and she and they are all literally you.

Now back to Morgan Freeman.  An episode of The Story of Us explored the power of Love in various human interactions.  The final segment of this installment of the series had Morgan in London visiting a hair stylist with a very inspiring hobby.  His shop is located in a section of the city that has a significant homeless population and for many years, this man felt impotent to help in any significant way these brothers and sisters who had fallen on such hard times.  Then one day he had an idea.  After closing his business each day, he now goes out on the streets, stool in hand, in search of suitable recipients of his daily acts of lovingkindness.  When he finds a homeless person that seems a good candidate, he has a brief chat with them before setting them on the stool where ever they may be – in an alleyway, below an underpass – and then he proceeds to give his new friend a shave and a haircut.  That’s it.  And the emotional effect of his selflessness on these long-forgotten human beings is as great as if he had gone around purchasing houses for them because you see, the real tragedy is the fact that we are scared of our unfortunate fellow travelers in this dance, ashamed of ourselves for feeling this way and consequently unwilling or unable to conjure the courage to help them.  Our warm-hearted hair stylist understands this.  He knows that what these people really lack isn’t just shelter but dignity and he does his best to give a little bit back to them.

Whoever we are, where ever we are, we can adopt similar hobbies.  How better to quiet one’s neurotic stream of consciousness than to direct that stream outward?  Do you really want to save the world?  Do you wish to vanquish racism and xenophobia and hatred?  Ensure a better, safer world for your children?  Fine.  All you need to do is go help someone.  That’s it.  It doesn’t matter who, it doesn’t matter how.  Just help.  If you do this often enough, you will eventually come to realize that helping yourself and saving the world are two phrases describing the same exact thing.  If it helps to sweeten the deal at the onset, just remind yourself that in the mind of one Donald T***p, an act of charity is a hostile act.  So let’s be as hostile as our hearts will allow and transform our habitat – our shared fabric —  with the magic of love and compassion.

Dharmageddon

tenor

There’s the Huns at the gate.  They don’t look like they’re messing.  Why don’t you turn your face to the wall if you find it distressing?  You can shiver in fear, feel the heat of the moment, then go ratchet it up in the sun as a kind of atonement…it’s a classic mistake, bringing water to Venice: out on the Lido, down on the lake there’s an aura of menace.  Secret words of the world are ‘engulf’ and ‘devour’.  Why is all this tyrannical shit in the soul of a flower? – Shriekback 

It’s been a little while since I gave myself a public reminder that I’m not who I think I am.  That I am not a solid, definable entity but a fluid process; and even that process is a mere phantasm of Mind.  As usual when I forget myself in this way, I’ve been mistaking Lila’s infinite and dramatic film reel for an actual series of upsetting events any one of which carries a lethal potentiality.  Regardless, it IS still reality, albeit of the relative variety as opposed to the Ultimate.  The nature of relative reality is that its appearance is relative to the observer; things apprehended through the senses are rapidly filtered through one’s memories, neuroses, beliefs and biases yielding very different results for multiple people who may be observing the same “thing”.  That said, just to get this out of the way, here is how this particular fragment of Consciousness interprets recent current events:

The buffoonish behavior of the Baby Monster currently squatting in the spot usually reserved for the arrogantly dubbed “Leader of the Free World” is providing a convenient smoke screen for lower profile but incalculably craftier and more influential puppet masters to consolidate the world stage into a battleground between seeming ideological opposites of the citizenry.  The people thus distracted and divided, these shadowy individuals hoard even more wealth and resources away from an already famished populace that never seems to notice any of it through the haze of manufactured hatred clouding their eyes.  We are perpetually on the brink of war, both at home and abroad.  Our hatred grows in direct proportion to the growth of our ignorance.  All of this has been existent in various embryonic stages for longer than I’ve been alive, but it has finally reached the inevitable point of critical mass.  Yet the greatest dramas with the most potentially dire consequences still play out right in our own living rooms with a little help from our myopic and self-grasping egos.

Did I sum that up nicely?  I sure hope so because I’m not going to say anything more about it for the simple reason that there was never anything to say about it in the first place.  We – the temporary fragments of splintered Mind – created this mess so the last thing any of us needs is an extended highlights reel.  You may protest that philosophy and metaphysics cannot change the very real dangers bearing down upon us as we continue to toxify our own habitat and imperil our increasingly tenuous coexistence and you would be right.  But I would counter that idealism is impotent.  As far as real “solutions” are concerned, the situation is quite hopeless.  And it is hopeless precisely because our minds are splintered and no one viewpoint is any more valid than the next.  I, too, am very guilty of expressing the subjective in objective terms.  Let’s start with the most common example of this confusion: as soon as I decide that some belief systems, words and behaviors are good while others are bad, I have abandoned the realm of objectivity or, if you prefer, the realm of unvarnished reality.  Whenever I use a collective pronoun like “we” to take ownership of what are actually personal viewpoints and morals, I willfully confuse the map with the territory and encourage seemingly kindred spirits to do the same.  The territory does not possess characteristics that are open to debate: it is what it is.  So while I would love to believe that at the heart of all sentient beings lies a core of wisdom and compassion, I’m afraid this has the characteristics of a pipe dream.  Buddha Nature might just be the snake oil of the East.  When I take a humanitarian position with an authoritative air, I am basically implying that love, compassion, empathy, charity, cooperation, kindness and spirituality are intrinsically good while selfishness, greed, hatred, cruelty and hedonism are intrinsically bad.   But since only fragments of fractured Mind can make such value judgments, there can never be anything like a consensus.  I feel the way I do as a result of countless influences: family, friends, culture, religion, philosophy, science, ad infinitum.  If I want to bolster a particular point, I will frequently quote others more illustrious than I in order to seemingly validate my position.  If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you’ve already seen me co-opt the words of Alan Watts, Chogyam Trungpa, the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, among others.  All of these individuals espouse a worldview that has wisdom and compassion at its core.  And they are all far more adept than I at making these subjective viewpoints seem as though they were unquestionable and objectively factual.  But alas…

Imagine you find yourself engaged in a heated debate with someone whose worldview is the diametric opposite of compassionate wisdom.  You explain to them that what they espouse and how they live is of no help to anyone else and might actually engender suffering in those whose only crime is trying to live their lives in peace.  This individual might very well (and justifiably) react by shrugging his shoulders and saying, “So what?”  He will see your St. Francis and raise you an Ayn Rand.  You see, there are just as many anti-social scholars and literary masters working in the service of egotism as there are those who dedicate their words to the promotion of love and empathy and peace.  Who is right?  Who is wrong?  Such questions can only be answered subjectively; objectively, there is no right and wrong.  If, for instance, a person feels compelled to advance the cause of “white supremacy” because this notion seems to be given airtight validity by some of Nietzsche’s dissertations, how can I objectively counter this position by citing the works of opposite-minded thinkers whose views are just as subjective?  I know, I know: by imagining Rand and Nietzsche* as the philosophical muses of the survival-of-the-fittest set, I am giving most of them FAR too much intellectual credit.  Sean Hannity serves the same purpose for those who bristle at big words.  But no matter where they find their inspiration, they would probably view my position that compassion and empathy are essential virtues to be foolish.  Naïve.  Self-defeating.  Are they wrong?  Not necessarily; but then, neither am I.

Contrary to what you usually read here, I spend a lot of time shouting into my own echo chamber about matters of politics and sociology.  It’s cathartic until it becomes its own solidified ego game, as it invariably does.  Yesterday, the actor Bryan Cranston – for whom I have great admiration – made the following statement: “Donald Trump…is not the person who I wanted in the White House.  That being said, he is the president.  If he fails, the country is in jeopardy.  It would be egotistical for anyone to say, ‘I hope he fails’.  To that person, I would say ‘fuck you’.  Why would you want that?  So you can be right?”  Admittedly, I experienced a bit of cognitive dissonance when I read those words coming from someone I respect.  But what was incorrect about what he said?  How many of us can humbly and courageously internalize this point that seems to run so counter to our new hobby of protesting across stubbornly delineated battle lines?  We so easily forget that we are ostensibly striving to decrease suffering; we are NOT striving to vanquish enemies or toss sharper barbs at those with whom we disagree.  Right?

The only thing to do is to root out any and all noises in our brains that did not originate from within and then work with what’s left.  So many of our cherished opinions, values, fears, tastes and proclivities have come to us from the outside: from our parents, our friends, society, religion and culture.  The Western mind is uniquely geared towards self-gratification due to the out-sized influence of the Judeo-Christian ethos that tells us we are all unique individuals made in God’s image and possessing an eternal soul or, in Buddhist parlance, an “inherently existing self”.  Therefore, even those of us who care about the plight of those less fortunate than us do so because it is essential to our chosen image (or “eternal salvation”).  In other words, we think of ourselves while we act on behalf of others.  The Eastern mind is better attuned to a more holistic view of the phenomenal world.  We help others to help ourselves to help others, and the demarcation between self and other isn’t nearly so apparent as what we’re used to.  On the face of it, this almost seems to imply an objective superiority, but that’s only because I am the one writing these words and I happen to have adopted a second-hand pseudo-Eastern mindset that informs these online diatribes.  Neither mindset is intrinsically right or wrong.  The only thing that we can do “wrong” is act in the service of ideas that aren’t our own.  Discerning which is which, of course, is easier said than done.  How many of us know our own minds, the only things that we actually can know if we truly made the effort?  Would you be able to differentiate between an opinion that germinated from within and one that was implanted from the outside during your formative years?  For those who wish to take on the daunting task of sorting through your own bullshit to unearth what’s genuine, meditation is really the only method I know of by which this can be done.

But if meditation is not a part of your truth, you’d be foolish to pursue it.  The word Dharma does not necessarily indicate the body of wisdom contained in either the Buddhist or Hindu canons.  Taken on its own, it simply means “truth”.  Buddhadharma would be the form of the word specific to the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama.  But Dharma – Truth – can be defined in as many ways as there are human beings (and possibly animals).  In order to get at your personal Dharma, you must do what I prescribed in the previous paragraph and separate the wheat from the chaff until you are left with your own pure, personal truth, whatever that may be.  Once you have accomplished that, you will no longer be capable of acting against your own interests.  Unfortunately, you may still be capable of intentionally causing suffering to others, but I do believe that more of us are at least moderately empathetic compared to those who are incapable of basic compassion.  Whether or not that’s true is irrelevant: you can only be genuine if you follow your truth, no matter what I or anyone else may think about it.

Let’s reclaim our genuine Truths so that we can go forward with confidence.  Stop second-guessing your own intuition.  Dance with the phenomenal world for as long as you are able.  This is not the path of least resistance, it is the path of No Resistance.  Float with the stream of the Tao and observe everything with interest – but don’t take any of it seriously.  Delusion imbues illusion with false veracity while clarity dispenses of such labels altogether.

There is truly nothing to fear other than our own self-made insecurities.  The outer battle may just end in total destruction.  So be it.  But the battle within is fought with gentleness and sacred silence and thus it is noble and worthwhile.  Real freedom arrives at the very moment you let yourself go.  Whoever you are, may you be happy and free from suffering and the causes of suffering.  Remember: Karma is extinguished along with illusion.

* To be clear, there is much of worth to be found in the works of Nietzsche for those who can interpret them correctly.  Ayn Rand was just an asshole.

 

The Bardo Asylum

 

mahakala

I came home last night to find myself sitting on the sofa, idly flipping through the pages of my dog-eared copy of the Bodhicaryavatara.

“Don’t be startled,” he said. “I am you. I’m not some time-traveling future you come to issue a warning nor am I an alternate version of you from a parallel universe. In fact, it’s funny that those two fantastic scenarios were the first things that came to your head when you saw me sitting here. It just goes to show that you’d rather believe any bit of sci-fi nonsense than the obvious fact that you’ve been downright duplicitous in your thoughts and behavior for nearly half a century.”

I blinked hard and looked myself in the eye. It was like staring at the reflection of my reflection in a hall of mirrors. He waved the book in the air.

“Do you believe this shit?” he said, pointing at the cover illustration of Santideva sitting on a lotus flower. “You don’t have to answer me because, of course, there is nothing you know that I don’t. That said, I’m going to speak of you — of me — in the first person from here on out in an effort to make this dialogue a little less awkward. I’m just a physical incarnation of the voice in my head. The ego voice. The voice that arises from self-awareness.”

“Not to be rude, but I prefer you in your proper state of invisibility.”

“Of course I do. As long as I refrain from looking myself squarely in the eye, I can pretend that there are countless potential higher versions of myself that can be realized with the proper training. When I see myself just as I am — the way that other people see me — it’s a lot harder to deny the fact that my potpourri of carefully selected images and ideals are nothing more than the delusional dualistic diversions of a coward. Tell me, what do I think about this whole ‘karma’ thing?”

“What would compel me to submit to an unwelcome interrogation conducted by me?”

“I’m embarrassed to have asked such an illogical question. It seems that if all of this self-conscious Buddhist practice I’ve worn on my sleeve for the past several years had had any practical effect whatsoever, I’d realize that anything I do is of my own volition. Yet, here I am resisting a conversation that I initiated.”

“I got home, opened the door and found you sitting here. I assure you, I had no intention of walking into such a situation.”

“And I was just sitting here reading when I spoiled my own quietude by walking through the door and acting surprised to find myself right where I had been all along. So let me get back to my question. I used to think of karma as some kind of cosmic justice system that ensures adequate punishment or reward for one’s actions. What can I say, my folks brought me up Catholic. But now that I’ve taken the time to learn its intended meaning, it seems to be similar to Newton’s laws of motion. Any action will create an appropriate reaction. Every cause creates an effect that creates a cause and so on. Not so mystical, is it? I was secretly disappointed when I learned the real definition. But this — this little chat I’m having — it must have been caused by an effect, right? And as counter-intuitive as it is to my understanding of basic physics, perhaps here’s the so-called mysticism I told myself I so desired. Anyway, everything I’ve ever done is significant according to the law of karma. All of the actions I’ve performed when laboring under the delusion of an inherently real self set pendulums in motion that will sooner or later reach their fulcrums and swing the other way. I wonder if I’m ready to start calling to mind some of those actions whose reactions have yet to come to fruition.”

I was starting to break out in a cold sweat and my pulse was becoming more rapid. Aside from my body double lounging on the sofa, no other features of my home were amiss. But the atmosphere felt off. For some reason, I began to think about the notion of linear time being a contrivance and how past and future exist only in the abstract. A terrifying suspicion arose in my mind that I wasn’t ready to analyze.

“This is challenging my so-called sense of logic, isn’t it? Ironically, I always eschewed the spiritual components of spirituality because they seemed so incompatible with my wishfully stoic image. That intermediate period between incarnations the Tibetans call the Bardo — I really brought my proud cynicism to bear on that one. But I’m not a Vulcan nor am I a scientist nor have I ever approached my life with logic, always emotion that I then immediately denied through verbal gymnastics, creating an artificial after-the-fact rationality. I do talk a good game, I’ll give me that. But it was just my ego — my self-cherishing — that nurtured this tendency to deny my own motives. The pendulum has been hovering at the brink of a backswing for quite some time now.”

Acting on pure instinct, I lunged at him and wrapped my fingers tightly around his throat. As I pressed deep into his larynx, I began to gasp and choke.

“Nice try. Now I’ve got bruises on my neck. Can I get on with it or must I make more ridiculous attempts to delay the inevitable?”

At that, he took a step towards me so that our noses were touching, then another to reassimilate into a single entity, a reintegration without corresponding physical sensations. There was no pain aside from that of the fresh bruises on my windpipe. Then I realized that everything around me — the walls, the floor, the furniture — was becoming watery in appearance; shimmering, shivering, and growing increasingly translucent.

At the very moment physical appearances dissolved completely, there came a pause. A timeless pause of a nanosecond or an aeon. Consciousness winked out.

***********************************

GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Like a demon, snarling, convulsing, biting down on my own tongue, I heard the inhuman sound escape my lips and reverberate throughout the asylum. There were screws digging into my temples, my arms and legs strapped to a gurney as two grotesquely brutish men were holding my midsection down. A man in priestly vestments stood at the foot of the gurney reading Latin passages from a leather-bound book in a booming oratory. I understood every word he spoke. I understood that I had been deemed insane by a council of church elders — possessed by a malevolent spirit that could only be banished through prayer or bodily torture or death. The priest closed his missal and declared that prayer had been insufficient. I was paralyzed with terror as the men began to tighten the screws.

Yippie! We’re All Gonna Die

bomb

I watch television news for one thing and one thing only: entertainment. That’s all I want from the news; entertainment. You know my favorite thing on television? Bad news. Bad news and disasters and accidents and catastrophes. I want to see some explosions and fires, I want to see shit blowing up and bodies flying around! I’m not interested in the budget. I don’t care about tax negotiations. I don’t want to know what country the fucking pope is in. But you show me a hospital that’s on fire and people on crutches are jumping off the roof and I’m a happy guy! I’m a happy guy! I want to see a paint factory blowing up. I want to see an oil refinery explode. I want to see a tornado hit a church on Sunday. I want to know there’s some guy running through the K-Mart with an automatic weapon firing at the clerks. I want to see thousands of people in the street killing policemen. I want to hear about a nuclear meltdown. I want to know the stock market dropped two thousand points in one day. I want to see people under pressure. Sirens, flames, smoke, bodies, graves being filled, parents weeping. Exciting shit. My kind of TV. I just want some entertainment. It’s just the kind of guy I am. It’s the kind of guy I am. You know what I love the most? When big chunks of concrete and fiery wood are falling out of the sky and people are running around trying to get out of the way. Exciting shit. – George Carlin

Every now and then I have to pause and consciously choose a perspective from which to view the current state of the world. Usually, the upshot of poking through my mental grab-bag of worldviews is a continued resolve to seek meditative insight into interdependence and impermanence so that I can face challenges and emotional upheaval with ever-increasing wisdom, equanimity and compassion. Other times, my reserve of spiritual aspiration and faith in its efficacy seems exhausted and I start to lapse into a nihilistic attitude that either fails or flat-out refuses to see the point in such efforts. What yesterday I called Vipashyana meditation, today I call sitting on a mat like an idiot and staring at statues of some long-dead Indian eccentric. And the bitch of it all is that both perspectives contain equal measures of truth. Meditation has scientifically-tested potential to harness the mind’s plasticity in the nurturing of positive emotional states and egoless insight. It is also a pointless act of remaining uncomfortably motionless in the futile expectation of a miraculous infusion of non-existent esoteric wisdom. Just like quantum particles, one’s attitude toward the importance of a spiritual approach to life’s eternal flux depends on the existing subconscious expectation of the observer making the judgment.

When George Carlin delivered the rant quoted above in a 1992 stand-up performance, I had yet to embark on any sort of a spiritual journey, let alone the frequently convoluted path of Buddhist practice. My views and opinions were entirely informed by a sort of bitter nihilism fed by drugs, alcohol and depression. As you can imagine, I reacted to his giddy ode to spectacular calamity with unbridled joy. Yes! It was like a rousing call to action. What can I do, in my own little way, to contribute to the chaos and expedite the annhilation of our needlessly troublesome species? For a comedy bit, it affected me profoundly. I embraced my existential angst with a new and uncharacteristic spring in my step.

It dawns on me that had I retained such a schadenfreudic attitude into the present, I’d probably consider the antics of people like Trump, Putin and Kim Jong-Un to be the entrees in a virtual smorgasbord of entertainment suddenly laid out before me as humanity’s condition becomes increasingly precarious. It would also be self-defeating of me to remind climate change deniers of their erroneous positions because another of my favorite spectator sports would almost certainly be the mad-dash scramble of people whose homes stand directly in the path of a category 5 uber-storm. In short, I would be nothing more than a properly informed but willfully unconcerned enabler of ignorance and suffering. Truth be told, I wrote all this out so that I could see the inherent awfulness and underlying cowardice of such nihilism with renewed clarity. I’d been lately contemplating throwing in the towel. This post is a reminder to myself that the seeming comfort in abdicating effort and responsibility is nothing but a mirage. Those of us who care do so because we can’t but feel otherwise if we are being honest with ourselves. There is no escape from the vulnerability of interdependence. I breathe because you do.

The prophecies of Armageddon contained in many of the world’s major religions also seem to have been inspired by a sort of nihilism arising from a lack of faith in man’s ability to resist his baser nature. From the Universal cycles of creation and destruction called Kalpas in Hindu cosmology to the apocalyptic warnings of Christian Revelation, man’s unspoken desire to watch the whole shithouse go up in flames is readily apparent. My spiritual dilemma is not different than that of humanity at large. Quite simply, it boils down to a question each of us must answer with as much honesty as we can bring to bear upon it: Do I succumb to despair and deliberately temper the effect of the horrors befalling the human race by telling myself I welcome and enjoy them? Or do I muster the courage to acknowledge my inseparability from it all and rejoin the noble and compassionate struggle with renewed vigor?

The question is rhetorical. Love is indestructible. I’ll see you on the front lines.

Nirvana

nir

The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth. – Lao Tzu

The laws of the Universe demand that everything remains perpetually in balance. Death and life appear simultaneously, though individually we usually only experience one of these poles at a time: last year, you celebrated the birth of a child; this year, you mourn the passing of a loved one. On an elemental level, disintegration and manifestation are a singular process as matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed. The only realm untouched by the Universal law of balance (or, if you prefer, the eternally balanced stream of Tao) is that of conscious experience. Not of Consciousness, mind you, but individual temporary conscious experience. Because we are unable to apprehend anything more than a mere fraction of the information around us through our limited sense organs, we feel as if any given moment in time is one of good fortune or bad luck. This, in turn, causes us to invent and conduct ourselves according to such conceptual pairs as justice and injustice, beauty and ugliness, sinner and saint, good and evil.

This is why human life is so unnecessarily difficult.

The Buddhist concept of Nirvana is wildly misunderstood in Western culture. Much like we’ve done with the idea of karma, we have tailored the word to align with our own philosophical understandings so that most people consider it the Buddhist equivalent of Heaven. It isn’t. Nirvana is not a place, nor is it an afterlife reward for having lived a morally upstanding life. It is simply a state of mind that sees reality as it is and consequently elevates the individual who achieves it to a condition no longer vulnerable to the suffering of ignorance. Though many auspicious lamas throughout the ages have claimed attainment of such a state, I tend to think of it more as an ideal to guide us in our psycho-spiritual development.

I know from direct experience that practices designed to aid an individual in the nurturing of wisdom and calm abiding are effective. Not all are to everyone’s taste, which is why there are a myriad of diverse meditative and yogic techniques for our correspondingly diverse mindsets. I utilize what methods work best for me and can attest to an enormous personal transformation over the course of the past five years from a surly, selfish, nihilistic drunk to…well, whatever the hell you’d describe me as now. But no matter how one might choose to describe me now, it’s an improvement, I assure you. However, I am not enlightened. I do not dwell in Nirvana as I am still just as vulnerable to the dualistic illusions of Samsara as anyone. So in speaking of the Eastern wisdom traditions as I’m obviously wont to do, understand that I only seek a lessening of personal and interpersonal suffering, not its complete eradication. Though I know it’s not always apparent in the words I utilize, I am always attempting to approach matters with the motivation of pragmatism as opposed to divine mysticism.

We tend to base our views of vital issues on the concept of time as it relates to our average human lifespan. For instance, if a person spends the majority of a lifetime struggling for social justice or equal rights and in their twilight years injustice and inequality only seem to have gotten worse, this person’s final thought may be that it was all for naught. That is a shame, because every noble struggle is worthwhile. However, if we really care about such causes for reasons beyond our own self-satisfaction, we need to realize that we may not see the fruits of our labors in our lifetimes that are but a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things. Acting from compassionate virtue must be its own reward. Every action sooner or later yields a corresponding reaction; incidentally, that’s the actual definition of karma, not some supernatural system of punishment and reward. So your virtuous actions will yield positive results…just maybe not as soon as you’d wish.

Due to my personal predispositions, I tend to be quite passionate about issues of equality and rights. This goes hand in hand with my spiritual understanding of the inherent equanimity of all beings. As a result, those who have read my ramblings for any length of time have come to expect occasional admonishments of those who discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and other surface-level classifications. Effective writing often demands a certain amount of hyperbolic idealism and absolutism, but I understand how things really work. In order for my words and actions to have any effect whatsoever, they must be shared and practiced by countless other individuals (and, of course, they are — usually FAR more vitally) because it is the collective mind that has to shift if any real, lasting change is to occur. Also, to avoid succumbing to discouragement, I have to understand that a massive psychic transformation on such a scale takes time. Whether I live to be 100 years old or die tomorrow, I will not be afforded the time to witness the effects of the virtuous human action of those currently inhabiting the planet. If this is the case, why struggle? Why care? Because spiritual evolution is not about the individual — it is about the forward motion of embodied Consciousness. If our selfish vantage points tell us that such efforts are futile, then we’re missing the point. Those who came before us brought us to the world we currently inhabit. We are doing the same, for better or for worse, for those who will come after us. If you are a parent, you might have a better instinctual understanding of the importance of leaving a better world for future generations. But this is something we all need to understand, whether or not we plan to pass on our genetic code.

So yes, the problems we currently face are bigger than any one of us. From the standpoint of individual efficacy, they are quite literally insurmountable. Yet I know in my heart that if we can take a broader view and drop our personal arrogance and self-protective attitudes enough to join hands and form alliances with those whose lifestyles and outlooks we may not understand, the prospects for a brighter and more cooperative future are great. Here’s hoping we can all make an effort to do just that. And if you still need a little bit of pride to sweeten the deal, I think it’s perfectly harmless to envision a new generation that truly appreciates the bold and kind efforts of its predecessor. We should aspire to go down in history, not infamy. To paraphrase a line from a cheesy Belinda Carlisle song, Nirvana is a place on Earth.  Potentially, of course.  By tapping that potential, we become timeless.