Gesundheit!

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Every time you sneeze, somebody dies.

In the unified field that is the phenomenal Universe, every action is significant and bears directly upon every other action initiated at that moment in time and ever after. Does this mean that those suffering from hay fever are effectively serial killers? Of course not. All I really did in putting forth that idea was manipulate our conveniently imperfect language to make an absurd proposition sound theoretically plausible. But the reason the statement was absurd is probably not what you think. In a very real sense, somebody does die every time you sneeze. Likewise when you fart, masturbate or scratch your elbow. But even if intentionally avoiding such behaviors were possible, their very lack of performance would result in the end of someone else’s life. It would also necessarily bring about someone else’s conception or birth, a compensating factor that would surely bode well for a criminal defendant, not to mention the lack of malice aforethought in the execution of the sneeze (or stifling of said sneeze). Finally, the infinite number of “compensating factors” contributing to anyone’s death or birth negate the appropriateness of blame or praise being leveled upon any single organism. My sneeze resulted in the death of some fisherman in Pago Pago only because you yawned at the same moment that I sneezed and because everyone and everything else in the Universe did whatever it did in unison with my sneeze and your yawn. The unfathomable multitude of specifics at any given moment creates a fateful perfect storm for somebody, somewhere.

I imagine that astronauts orbiting the planet experience a god-like feeling as they gaze down upon the earth whose only movement from that perspective is that of the shifting strata of the upper atmosphere. From that far out, the frantic non-stop hive movements of the organisms upon the planet could not be discerned even if they were unobscured by clouds. So for as long as an astronaut inhabits a vessel in orbit, the only activities of life he can discern are his own. God-like. Our normal lack of such panoramic perspective is the reason we had to invent God in the first place. Our extremely limited and specialized sense organs are the only obvious windows of perception at our disposal. We navigate our lives with the aid of extremely narrow spotlights that illuminate only one very small feature of our environment at a time. The more we try to widen our perspective, the less clear become its constituent elements. Therefore, compared to those of us currently tethered to the surface of the earth by gravity, our intrepid space traveler truly does have a god-like view of our spherical habitat.

But that, again, is just a matter of perspective. In a Universe that is suspected to have existed for almost 14 billion years and that expands its parameters ever further with each passing moment, the only entity that could possibly be afforded a complete singular view of a field on such a massive scale would have to be something that exists outside of it and this is where the notion of god comes in. Yet the whole notion of god as some kind of creative spirit that resides on a plane beyond phenomena and from which our lives were conjured is as patently absurd as believing that you should send a sympathy card to every household in the world every time you sneeze. If a singular force is indeed responsible for the creation and sustenance of all that is, it would also logically need to be all that is. So this thing we so quaintly anthropomorphize in scripture is us. Reading the bible or any other monotheistic religious text is similar to re-reading one’s own diary.  And like most diaries, it is fundamentally dishonest and self-absorbed in its tone. It assumes a split, a separation between us and our creator and this makes each of us feel separate and unique…and anxiety-ridden. Replacing our egotistic sense of self with the more accurate feeling that each person is just a movement within the whole threatens our erroneous sense of what we are. It reminds us of our utter insignificance as imagined “individuals”. But at the same time, if this really were how we understood ourselves and our place in the larger field, there would no longer be the residual fear of self-preservation. The Self as imagined correctly doesn’t need preservation — it just is unless and until it isn’t.

I’ve spoken of a human being or any other life form as a unified field as opposed to a self-contained system, taking into account all of the “external” environmental factors necessary for life as well as our symbiotic impact upon those factors. From a strictly biological perspective, this is accurate. However, any description of a specific “part” of the whole is like describing a field within a larger field and thus inaccurate. The “field” that is me is illusory for the simple reason that one can never draw a definitive border around my sphere of influence. The entire Universe is its own singular field of influence and I as an infinitesimal energy knot am inseparable and indistinguishable from the vast fluid Singularity. I chose that word, incidentally, because it dawns on me that when astrophysicists use it to describe the extremely pressurized theoretical point that allegedly exploded into the rapidly expanding Universe, they inadvertently trap themselves in a linguistic double-bind. A “thing”, in this case the mysterious pre-creation singularity of Universal potential, cannot be discerned without space around it and other “things” inhabiting that space creating the possibility for distinction and discrimination. And if something cannot be discerned even theoretically, that is tantamount to saying that it didn’t or doesn’t exist. Perhaps the real source of confusion is the same old culprit — language. The words “beginning” and “end” are inapplicable to reality yet they cause us to assume that every event and every process must have the quality of these arbitrary bookends even though every “end” is a “beginning” and vice-versa. Our minds are incapable of intellectually grasping anything that does not have a finite span, so in the absence of suitable answers to life’s mysteries, we imagine an impossible being that lives unencumbered by the physical laws which bind us. Really, that’s just our way of throwing in the towel in our collective and ongoing search for truth. It’s our reaction upon reaching a seeming exhaustion of natural explanations to assume such things can only be explained by the existence of something super-natural, as big a load of semantic horseshit as has ever been proposed. Supernatural is a meaningless fucking term. Or as Love and Rockets once put it, “You cannot go against nature because when you do go against nature, it’s part of nature, too.”

For as long as we continue to feel like temporary skin-enclosed biochemical systems wrapped around an etheric immortal soul, we can never hope to achieve anything more than our familiar neurosis-breeding false view of reality. At the same time, it is precisely this stunted perspective that allows us to discern small patterns within slightly larger patterns in day to day life. For instance, a spectator in the bleachers of a football game would have a much harder time keeping track of the interplay between 22 participants evenly divided in their goals without the aid of panoramic images being transmitted from the dirigible floating above the stadium. However, from that vantage point, the colors of the uniforms being worn by the two teams wouldn’t be nearly as visible so if the action on the field isn’t occurring in an obvious directional trajectory, the pilot of the blimp couldn’t tell you who was winning or even which team was playing offense or defense. So a collaboration of perspectives takes place — the overhead footage from the zeppelin, the in-the-action perspective of the referees, the slightly elevated viewpoint of the fans — all combine to provide us with the most complete picture of the play possible, but this can only be pulled together after the fact. What you witnessed at the moment the last play was executed is entirely dependent upon where you were located and as such was woefully incomplete and inaccurately understood. This analogy was meant to be infinitely expandable so that you understand there is absolutely nothing that can be understood without the correct understanding of our utter inability to understand anything at all. A Universe that conjures itself from moment to moment does not stop to contemplate its own meaning or purpose, and that is why it can paradoxically be said to understand itself completely. It understands, quite simply, that there is nothing that needs to be understood.

I am far from enlightened and therefore, I entertain just as many silly notions having no basis in truth as anyone. It’s what we call wishful thinking. And I’m going to engage in a bit of that right now just to illustrate its impracticality. One, two, three…AH-CHOOO!!

Nope.  I just waited 10 minutes and apparently, Donald T***p is still spreading his noxious fumes across the Asian continent as we speak, so my deliberate sneeze was predictably impotent. I wonder if that unnecessary experiment was worth the life of a poor fisherman in Pago Pago.

Winning: A Losing Proposition

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Soy un perdador. I’m a loser, Baby, so why don’t you kill me? – Beck

The idea that life is a contest in which it is the natural goal of each individual to distinguish him or herself as a “winner” has been at the core of neurotic Western values since the heyday of the Roman Empire. The imagined superiority of the individual over his peers in some specialized discipline or another is the promoted aspiration from which we are taught to seek our sense of worth and purpose. With this subconscious drive informing our every decision, those with the pre-existing privilege of power, wealth or influence attempt to exert this “superiority” over large swaths of the planet while those of more humble backgrounds usually aspire to a more local celebrity. Since this attitude is the baseline from which all of us in Western culture operate, we willingly elevate some of the most despotic people to positions of honor and influence precisely because of our fucked up definition of what constitutes honorable behavior.

Maybe this is just due to the fact that I grew up in the 1980s, but it seems that this vague but persistent promotion of personal victory just for the sake of it was comically apparent in the pop culture of that particular decade. Sports movies with the underlying cliched theme of “underdog defeats formidable rival” were all the rage and their accompanying soundtrack music encouraged listeners to “rise up”, “go for the glory”, “reach for the top”, “go for the gold” and “defy the odds” in order to…what? They never really specified how exactly one should define this elusive “glory” other than implying that it has something to do with winning — preferably in as public a way as possible. How else can we possibly explain to future generations the inexplicable popularity of movies about arm wrestling and bands like Survivor other than to acquiesce to the fact that in the eighties, we all thought that a championship trophy was the ultimate symbol of someone’s worth?

Since the turn of the millennium, two public figures have done more to advance the notion of “winning” at all costs than any others I can call to mind. One of them lost his gig on Two and A Half Men over his public arrogance. The other got elected to the presidency of the United States. Drugs had much to do with the resulting downfall of the former individual. The latter is a flawless illustration of the ignorance inherent in such a value system as it becomes clearer by the day that this attitude in its most egregious form is more potentially dangerous than the Black Death. In the 14th Century, the bubonic plague laid claim to about one third of the European population. But what we are facing today as the result of the glorification of narcissism quite literally has the potential to eradicate the species. Remind me again why this is considered “winning”?

The root of the problem lies in our erroneous conception of individuality. Despite comparatively recent and extensively documented discoveries in the realm of physics that utterly demolish the notion of independent islands of cohesive and self-regulated matter, as a culture we have chosen to ignore the implications of these findings that weaken our sense of independence. Egoism is so hard-wired into our psyches that we are capable of ignoring direct evidence that calls our sense of self into question. And it’s remarkably easy to defend such willful ignorance when everyone else harbors the same point of view. “I’m just not interested in science. It’s all so boring to me.” Very rarely does anyone feel motivated to question such a stubbornly myopic mindset because most of us feel exactly the same way, even if some of us have styles of explaining it that sound loftier in their expression.

Our very lives depend on blowing this suicidal philosophy right out of the water. And the only way to do that is to awaken people to reality as it is. If the interdependent and impermanent nature of all phenomena were truly understood, it would become apparent that there is literally no such thing as “winning”. The very word implies an imagined independence of every organism that exists and the ability of each to distinguish itself as superior through sheer force of will. But an organism cannot possibly exist independently and our wills are anything but individual. They are an amalgam of aspirations and values adopted from the cultures we inhabit. They are a mass hallucination induced by the dispensation of the idea that every individual is in complete control of his or her own destiny. They are the direct result of the anxiety that arises from ego.

Every atom — every proton of every atom — owes its existence to every other atom in the Universe. The reason matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed is because the removal of one single atom from the whole would cause it to collapse into nothingness. The “stuff” that currently coalesces as your physical body has always existed in one form or another and it will continue to exist long after you’re dead. The grand process that is the Universe persists because it is constantly in flux. If just one molecule decided to sit out the next dance, all movement across the 13.8 billion light year wide dance floor would cease, leaving not even an errant party streamer as evidence of what once had been.

So why can’t we try to behave more like our constituent molecules and trust in the fact that the law of interdependence is exactly what allows us to be, to think and to live? If our collective subconscious view evolved into one that takes as a given the necessity of your existence to support my own, how could we possibly continue to feel motivated to delight in the perceived “defeat” of others or in our own personal “victories” over them? The very idea would strike us as the outright nonsense that it is and our struggles would invariably be resolved through collaborative and cooperative solutions that don’t seek to elevate any party over the other.

And the only reason that last sentence just struck you as impossibly idealistic is because you, like most of us, find the idea of letting go of your own perceived preciousness as distasteful a proposition as can possibly be raised. Either that, or you just have a really unhealthy aversion to Hillary Clinton and Ashton Kutcher.

Dharmageddon

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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 War Dance

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Mourning in the aerodrome.  The weather warmer, he is colder.  Four men in uniform to carry home my little soldier…What could he do?  Should have been a father, but he never even made it to his twenties.  What a waste, Army Dreamers. – Kate Bush

World war.  Civil war.  Turf war.  Cold war.  Race war. Drug war.  Cyber war.  Nuclear war.  Proxy war.  Religious war.  Price war.  Gang war. Chemical war.  Range war.  Cola war.  Drone war…

Billions of fractured micropixels defragment into a lumbering mass of global identity crisis.  Egos seek pride in the illusion of uniqueness.  When Consciousness splinters, its wisdom-deprived constituents draw battle lines and engage in suicidal struggle.

If you cherish yourself, you are a warmonger indeed.  With your self-hatred, you have tossed an explosives-laden boomerang into the air.  If you acknowledge any other self than That which encompasses all, you march perpetually into battle.

War begins at home, in the place where you keep your mirror.  The I asserts its independence, the amygdala electrifies, anger rises up and looks for a place to express itself.  It seeks confirmation of its worth only to find that everyone is too busy confirming their own to acknowledge yours.   In the fog of delusion, we fight for our survival.

In the light of reality, there is no one to fight.  Om Tat Sat.  When we awaken from the dream of self, doves will fill the sky.  Illusion will disappear along with the sleep in our eyes.  The peace of Unity is the endgame of wisdom and wisdom alone is immortal.

Lay down your arms, for the battle is internal.  There is nothing to be vanquished but delusion.

Yippie! We’re All Gonna Die

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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

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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.

 

Not For The Faint of Heart

Impermanence

Everything is changeable. Everything appears and disappears. There is no blissful peace until one passes beyond the agony of life and death. – Shakyamuni Buddha

Though they dispense universal messages applicable to all sentient beings, the wisdom traditions of the East are a hard sell to Westerners unless the truths contained therein are watered down to an acceptably comfortable level. Invariably, when attempts are made to do just that, the end result is a pointless re-rendering of ego-stroking Western thought at the expense of the very wisdom purported to be at the heart of these impotent translations. If this is the only presentation of these philosophies that we are willing to digest, then we aren’t ready to understand the most crucial points that form the basis of Taoism, Buddhism and Vedanta.

We cling to ourselves as if there was actually something inherent in our impermanent and interdependent lives worth protecting. That is the entire problem. I can and have dissected this succinct truth and viewed it from multiple angles in the hopes that one of my redundant screeds will break through the mental barriers of those who bristled at previous presentations of the same basic, uncomplicated problem. But I play the fool when I don my guru’s hat and attempt to convince others that I have even the slightest insight into the human condition. If I truly possessed such wisdom, it would be above reproach and the arguments raised in its wake wouldn’t be worthy of consideration. Yet, more often than not, the arguments raised are more worthy of consideration than my original point.  So I continue to let others witness my habit of desperately trying to convince myself of the veracity of my own recently co-opted worldview.  Yet I still feel there’s a method to my madness.

Ego is a Freudian and therefore Western concept. In fact, the solidification of basic ignorance into psychology’s premier bogeyman could only have been accomplished in a culture that refuses to differentiate between individual freedom and personal glorification. This is why an idea like that of enlightenment being a state of non-discriminatory awareness sounds like a contradiction to us. If a system of self-betterment fails to treat each of us as precious, unique and important, it offends our culturally selfish sensibilities. The lama says that attachment is generated by an erroneous view in the separateness of the person or thing we adore or covet. The Western student counters, “But what about my beautiful wife? My adorable child?” The lama stoically repeats, “avoid attachment”. The student rolls up his yoga mat and storms out of the temple, incredulous that such an allegedly wise man could dare question the worth of the key players in his little myopic world. The lama does not flinch because he realizes that the wayward student was not ready for what he had to offer. For some, unvarnished reality is just too much to handle. A philosophy that refuses to cater to our egos and justify our stories is often viewed as cold, cruel and inhuman.

But I am as sure as I can be that we are the ones who have it backwards. Real love does not engage in attachment. Real love does not fear the loss of its object because everyone and everything is included in its scope. If Eastern notions of interdependence don’t speak to you, perhaps discoveries in the field of quantum physics are a better place to gain the same insights. Buddhism approaches this truth through liberal use of the word emptiness, something that sounds fundamentally negative to our ears. However, what is meant by the word in this context is that nothing and no one has an inherent, independent existence apart from the interconnected whole. It does not imply that the seemingly separate people we meet on our journey are devoid of worth. That’s the view of nihilism. On the contrary, the understanding of universal interdependence is meant to increase our compassion for others by reminding us that they are not other than ourselves. This means, also, that we cannot discriminate with our love; those we like to view as evil in an effort to feel morally superior are also just us, essential interlocking gears in the mechanism of consciously apprehended phenomena.

When I say that our energy is indestructible, many misinterpret this as an allusion to a soul that will retain the predilections of its earthly ego. We think we want to live forever because we have never pondered the implications of such a nightmare scenario. Death is implicit in the word life. Just as there can be no front without a back, an eternal experience is an oxymoron. Pining for this sort of personality immortality is the tragic result of superstition born of selfish grasping and fear of non-existence. The Heart Sutra, one of Buddhism’s most famous and esoteric texts, asserts that there is no existence and no non-existence. This means that the Universal dance of the unitive Consciousness goes on in perpetuity but our terms of individual experience do not. So, yes, the energy that currently animates me is eternal, but when I draw my final breath, the experience of being Paul is over. We are all rivulets making our way gradually back to the river to rejoin our original source and forget our temporary and illusory roles as individuals.

When you catch a glimpse of a rainbow arcing its illumined beauty across a cloudy sky, you would be a fool not to stop and marvel at its ephemeral glory. But you would be just as big a fool if you tried to chase it and make it your own. With every step you take towards your goal, it becomes more and more insubstantial. This is true of everything. Retain your sense of wonder and joy, your bittersweet vulnerability in the face of heartbreaking beauty. But don’t seek to solidify the Universe’s sleight of hand lest you vulgarize the magic. You cannot possess a single thing, no matter how much you may yearn to do so. But you can dance with everything for as long as you are afforded the opportunity. The trick to this very serious business is to learn how to take none of it seriously. Unselfconscious laughter is the expressive vibration of divinity.