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.

A Blessed Day

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Annually, the Catholic Church observes six Holy Days of Obligation, in addition to 52 Sundays on which practicing Catholics are obliged to attend Mass, bringing the grand total to 58 days per year on which the Pontiff-led faithful find themselves spectators to a bizarre transmogrification ceremony that culminates in a cannibalistic feeding frenzy whose main course is the flesh of their Messiah.

In stark contrast, the Church of Curmudgeon only recognizes one Holy Day of Obligation in any given calendar year and that day is today, the Solemn Feast of November 13th. Most of you are probably unaware of the significance of this holy observance and that’s okay. We’re all about forgiveness here and the only thing that matters is that you are here right now to join in this blessed celebration. All you need to do to be considered in good standing with the Church is watch this short video explaining the mystical origins of this most sacred of days:

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.

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.

 

Hypocrisy

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Never meant to leave you all alone. Said I’d be your shelter from the storm. Now your clothes have all been torn. Kingdom sacked, attacked and dethroned. – Matisyahu

Like most people, I habitually make grand proclamations about how I’m going to behave in certain situations “from here on out”. Even on this recently conceived blog, I’ve already contradicted myself several times. “This will be my last political rant” (until the next one). “Fuck it, I’m moving to Canada” (perhaps, maybe, if a good opportunity arises). “From now on, I will view everything through eyes of compassion” (until someone pisses me off).

At the same time, I post frequent dispatches from the etheric level of my mind informing readers, essentially, that there are no absolutes. When I invariably follow such spiritual essays with a declaration of absolute “irrefutable” opinion, do I thus negate myself entirely?

Obviously, confident pronouncements of my future outlook and/or conduct are verbal chimeras as the future is an invented concept to which the Universe does not subscribe. But one can only be so meticulous with his words before the emotion gets sucked right out of the script. Therefore, with full knowledge that I am once again attempting to predict the non-existent future, I concede that I will probably continue to express myself in a somewhat contradictory manner. That doesn’t necessarily render my words hypocritical, just inadequate.

I have to admit that throughout the recent existential crisis faced by the US and by extension the world, I’ve been disappointed to find that the representatives of the Buddhist community to whose newsletters I subscribe have been confoundingly silent about all of it. I receive e-mails informing me of new stupas being built, some lama’s upcoming birthday, or most frequently, another redundant paean to Milarepa or some other long-dead Dharma icon. Of course, a significant percentage of meditation practice is designed to facilitate the disengagement from ego. This is a long process, to put it mildly. Ideally, when one has thrown off the bonds of Samsara, he or she is said to possess perfect natural compassion due to the panoramic view thus attained. But let’s be honest: who among us – dedicated meditators and spiritually disinterested people alike – possesses anything like universal compassion that informs their every thought, word and action? To put it mildly: precious few of us, if any.

So in our imperfect state, are we expected to disengage from all social and political affairs until we reach that fuzzy place called Nirvana? Sometimes, it seems that this is precisely the message I’m getting from people who are supposed to be so spiritually advanced that they elicit reactions akin to worship from their devotees. Humans sure do love to grovel at someone else’s feet. The ironic thing about this tendency in many Buddhists is that its implication is the antithesis of unity and equanimity, two of the most important aspects of Siddhartha Gautama’s original message. Like any other ancient wisdom tradition, Buddhism suffers from having acquired “too many cooks” along the way in its 2500 year history. The Buddha himself warned against the kind of inferiority complex implicit in such misguided fealty.

So here we are, imperfect seekers inhabiting a dangerous world. Humanity’s cruelty is just as prevalent as ever, even if the surface features have changed with the times. And now, at the threshold of a truly global emergency that threatens to increase the suffering of mankind to unprecedented levels, some of us look to our spiritual “superiors” and hear only crickets. Or we’re told about fund drives to finance a new, perfectly unnecessary opulent temple or stupa. Granted, these symbolic structures are beautiful, but can they free prisoners? Feed the hungry? Stand up for the oppressed? I’m sorry, but some vague statement about the positive energy emanating out to the world from these construction projects doesn’t cut it. People are suffering, people are scared…and they need help. Real help. Tangible help. Now. Building a miniature Angkor Wat in Palm Beach doesn’t constitute help.

If you meditate, the time spent on the cushion or walking mindfully is the time to disengage. When the bell signals the end of the session, your ego reasserts itself. Ideally, ego’s strength is slightly decreased with each immersion into non-conceptual awareness, but to proclaim that you have conquered your ego is an oxymoron. Therefore, at this critical juncture, I am asking my fellow travelers of the path to care for your suffering brothers and sisters. Volunteer. Protest. Donate. Comfort those in need. Divert the self-interest of your ego into charitable activities. Get out there. Get your hands dirty. Spreading the message of the Dharma is a wonderful thing (so long as you refrain from proselytizing), but it doesn’t feed people or heal their wounds.

I am aware that many dogmatic Buddhists would take issue with what I said here. But the Dalai Lama wouldn’t, so if you’re itching for a debate, take it up with His Holiness…if you can get a minute with him, of course. He’s usually busy these days taking steps to alleviate real suffering and therefore may not have time for your pointless semantics. That’s what real spiritual people do. The charlatans sit in their temples and solicit donations to increase the shininess of their surroundings. Spirituality without pragmatism is futile.

And if, like me, you wish to decrease the use of absolute language in discussing issues that are fluid rather than static, maybe just try to be quieter across the board. Those who suffer don’t need our words, and acts of kindness can be performed just as well in silence. But charitable acts performed bombastically are still better than silent negligence.

Sacrilege

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You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me… – Exodus 20:5

Early last month, the Orange Homunculus held a gathering of evangelical leaders in the Oval Office. At the conclusion of this bizarre love-in for the New Messiah of the Christian Right, the assembled “faith leaders” laid their hands on him with the same reverence described in the bible by those who had the blessed honor of touching Jesus’ sacred garments. Think about that. If there are truly any humble and ethical Christians left in this arrogant and increasingly despicable nation, I would have to guess that it was enormously offensive for them to see other “followers of Christ” bestowing such undue admiration upon this morally bankrupt piece of shit with a narcissism that rises to the level of a God complex.

How can alleged devotees of someone dubbed the Prince of Peace possibly justify such sycophantic fealty to a man who causes so much suffering with his hateful rhetoric and draconian attempts at consolidating dictatorial power? How did a group of senators and cabinet members just days earlier live with themselves after bestowing coerced hyperbolic praise and decrees of loyalty upon a lawless “president” who had publicly insulted and lambasted every one of them over the course of the past year? The answer, believe it or not, lies in the bible.

The authors of the scriptures, particularly of the Old Testament, knew a thing or two about erecting power structures to assure their own selfish ends. They created an image of God based upon the tyrannical leaders of ancient empires. A god who created mankind out of the dust for the express purpose of demanding adoration, obedience and loyalty from it, the failure of which will be punished by an eternity in hell. Nice, huh? Can’t you just feel the pervasive love and forgiveness beaming down from this Fuhrer In The Sky?

It’s high time that all people of reasonable intelligence and decency start to analyze their own religious beliefs and their reasons for having them. Lazy non-answers such as “it’s the religion in which I was raised” don’t cut it anymore. That says absolutely nothing about why you find a particular religious tradition’s claims to have any veracity. To be clear, I am not attacking anyone’s genuine faith here, as long as that faith doesn’t demand judgment and persecution of others. I am simply calling out hypocrisy on the part of those who claim to “base their lives” on the example of Jesus and then proceed to treat their fellow man in ways that he specifically prohibited.

I find it ironic that the god of the bible seems to be a perfect amalgamation of all the qualities we’re told are wrong and sinful: anger, vengefulness, narcissism, selfishness, jealousy. These are the qualities of a dictator; an emperor; an authoritarian who exacts obedience through fear.

One cannot simultaneously have a “fear of God” and a love for God. Similarly, one cannot fear a ruthless human leader and love him. The two emotions are mutually exclusive. So while someone like Trump may have no qualms about basking in insincere adoration from spineless politicians, how can people attribute such an attitude to their “loving creator” and fail to see the preposterousness of such a myth?

I believe that religion is a true panacea and moral guide for some people. However, if one cannot be inquisitive and, yes, skeptical enough to question the glaringly contradictory aspects of their tradition’s ancient scripture, then this person is just desperately grasping at blind faith motivated by fear. Love and compassion can have no real place in such an egocentric and paranoid cosmology. Nor do they currently have a place in the United States of America.

Spooky Action At A Distance

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In scientific circles, the debates between Albert Einstein and quantum physics revolutionary Nils Bohr in the 1920s were just as significant as were the Lincoln-Douglas debates to historians. A famous exchange occurred after Bohr finished summarizing the notion of “quantum entanglement”, or the perpetual interaction of two sub-atomic particles regardless of their proximity in space. Flummoxed at this bizarre new theory (and perhaps feeling that his famous relativity theory was in jeopardy due to its dependence on Newtonian physics), Einstein bellowed, “God does not throw dice!” Without missing a beat, Bohr deadpanned in response, “Don’t tell God what to do.”

Admittedly, I am at best a scientific hack. You know the kind: one of those people who has read a few books on a certain topic and henceforth presents himself to the world as one of its foremost authorities. The ego is a funny thing, even though every book on Eastern philosophy I’ve read insists that it isn’t a thing at all. Sometimes I know better than the authors of the books I read. Scientist Supreme. Guru to the Lamas. That’s me. If you’ve heard it from me, it must be true.

False modesty through hyperbolic arrogance aside, I really don’t know what the hell I’m talking about most of the time. Then again, I suspect no one does. Most people specialize in one field of study and spend their lives exploring every conceivable aspect of it. We have physicists, biologists, astronomers, philosophers, theologians, anthropologists and sundry experts all trying to answer the BIG questions via their respective disciplines. I think this is why, after centuries of exploration and contemplation, we haven’t arrived at anything like a consensus.

From the aforementioned BIG questions, I am going to examine two of them here: 1) Is there a soul?; and 2) Is there a God? Yes, I realize those are arguably two of the most convoluted questions I could possibly choose, but worry not – I will be brief. No mysteries are going to be solved in this post, other than perhaps the mystery of why there are so many disparate and contradictory answers to these two questions.

Let’s just get my best guess answers to those 2 queries out of the way: 1) not as such; 2) not as such. Sorry, but that’s the best I can do, Folks. And quite frankly, it’s about the best that anyone can do because, you see, these are unanswerable questions. Every religion claims otherwise, of course, and this is why I have a hard-wired disrespect for religion in general. All of the major Western religions believe in a soul that is essentially an eternal spirit underlying and animating the physical body. At death, it is posited that this soul, which is identical to one’s personality (it remembers and even “watches over” surviving family members, for instance) takes up residence in either Heaven, Hell or Purgatory depending upon its behavior during its embodied time on Earth.

Thankfully, our friends to the East have a different interpretation that has far fewer parallels to a Brothers Grimm morality fairy tale. The Hindus believe in a soul or Atman that isn’t a microcosm of one’s personality or ego, but quite the opposite: an inner, immortal spark of awareness that doesn’t just have “godlike” qualities, it is God (or Brahman), witnessing its own creation through innumerable sets of eyes. Upon death, this spark simply rejoins the Godhead. Finally, the Buddhists – in one of the few tenets of that tradition that smacks of stubborn contrariness – insist that there is no immortal soul. They coined the term Anatman, just to drive the point home a little further. Since the core of that philosophy deals with the interdependence of all things and the emptiness of phenomena, it seemed important to apply this view to the soul (Atman), too. However, before all of you atheists and agnostics out there start thinking that perhaps Buddhism might be an ideal spiritual pursuit for one of your skeptical nature, be aware that the Buddhist argument against the soul is linguistic at best. After that big, wonderful middle finger to the notion of immortality, they then go on to describe how all sentient beings are caught in the web of Samsara for “infinite lifetimes”. There is a complicated afterlife cosmology, referred to as the Bardo, that describes in excruciating detail the nature of the various realms your (don’t you dare call it a soul!) will be thrust into again and again until the highly unlikely event of one attaining “enlightenment”. When pressed, they will call this element that survives death a “karmic continuum” or a “mind stream”. To-may-to, to-mah-to. It’s the same damn concept.

Of all these theology-based theories of the soul, the Hindu Atman makes the most sense to me. It goes along with my pantheistic view that every single one of us is not just indispensable to but IS this thing we call God. More than that, since this outlook doesn’t describe this spark of divinity as having anything to do with our individual temporary egos and it dispenses of the childlike anthropomorphic view of god pervasive in Judeo-Christian circles, I’d hazard a guess that it’s the view held by most non-atheistic physicists, too.

Quantum mechanics has helped to proliferate that previously rare animal, the “non-atheistic physicist”. For the issue of the soul, it is precisely the previously mentioned quantum entanglement (or “spooky action at a distance”, as Einstein called it) that gives some renewed credibility to the concept. At the sub-atomic level, when two particles (knots of energy) become entangled, they remain so indefinitely. Particles that have been found to affect one another’s behavior have been separated and moved to laboratories thousands of miles away from each other, and the action of one still has the same instantaneous effect on the other as before. Extrapolating this phenomenon out to the extreme macro level, the fact that each of our bodies contains multitudes of particles that may be entangled with other particles all over the Universe seems to imply that there is constant communication between the Universe and ourselves. The laws of conservation of matter and energy take care of the immortality bit in relation to such particles (or waves…or wavicles).

My use of that awkward term at the end of the last paragraph was methodical. The other exceedingly bizarre concept to come out of quantum theory is that of the need of an observer in order for any event to take place. A quantum particle’s position can be measured, as can its trajectory, but never both. That is because a human observer, even with the aid of the most advanced observational equipment, can only concentrate on one thing at a time. You can either view a particle’s position in space OR you can view its path. For the former, an observer sees it as a particle; the latter, a wave. So which is it? Much like Schrodinger’s poor dead-alive cat, it is both until such time as someone looks at it, causing it to suddenly “choose” a definitive nature. But really, the observer did the choosing. Again, extrapolating this notion to the extreme, a creator/infinite observer is implied in order to explain our own existence. It looks at us causing us to be and we, in turn, look at little particles under microscopes, causing them to be. I can dig all this, and it does seem to give veracity to many Taoist, Buddhist and Hindu philosophical points. But there is no morality to any of this. No “justice”, as religious folks in the West seem to insist MUST be a part of the grand plan. But what if it isn’t? What if we invented the concept of “justice” as a biological imperative (and a psychological salve) but the Universe, the All, the Whatever-the-Fuck-You-Wish-To-Call-It has no such sense of right and wrong? To me, it’s far more of a stretch to believe that it DOES give a crap about whether we are good or evil than that it doesn’t. For a start, both “good” and “evil” are completely subjective notions, so who’s to say that god, were he/she/it so inclined, would even get it right according to our judgments?

Finally, although I can accept the idea that I am god and you are god and she is god and he is god and it is god and they are god…I cannot accept the idea that our identities survive our physical death. And what this means, ultimately, is that my vision of the “afterlife” is exactly the same as that of atheists and nihilists. In short, nada. I just take far longer to arrive at that conclusion than they do. Incidentally, I am available to give classroom lectures at local elementary schools if you get the feeling that your children are growing up to be far less fucked up than you are and hence need a good dose of confusion injected into their precocious little minds.