Saturday, July 30, 2005

Brilliant Anti-IRAQ statement from John Quincy Adams

[America] goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force....She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit....

John Quincy Adams, 6th president of the USA.
Borrowed from an Indian Theoretical Physicist here:

Friday, July 29, 2005

poem: Turning from Virtue

The turn of mind
To sensual pleasures
Seems innocent
In ignorance
Blinded by passion

The sticky pleasure
Of desire fulfilled
Does not permit
Easy return.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

homage to reason, that which we are so in need of...

Car enfin, soit que nous veillions, soit que nous dormions nous ne nous devons jamais laisser persuader qu'à l'évidence de notre raison.

- "Fourth Medidation," by René Descartes

For in the end, whether we are awake, or we are asleep, we must never let ourselves be convinced except on the evidence of our reason.

Find the whole text in French with annotation here:

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Regaining integrity in purpose

This last month or so has seen my direction in life tossed a bit this way and that, perturbed by a wonderful Spanish girl and a spiritual journey to Ireland. But now, slowly, four days after saying goodbye to that girl, I am beginning to regain my integrity of purpose: namely dedication to writing my thesis.

Some may think this is an easy thing: just sitting and reading and writing... Either they've never undertaken such a large task, or they've done so many that the steps fall into place before them without effort. I'm still young, and I have only attempted small tasks in comparison with this, so often I am paralyzed by its sheer enormity, and at other times I spin off into work which ends up being too tangential to be relevant. The balance of effort and overview is delicate, and takes practice.

This little diagram represents my mental operations when still a bit disoriented. Basically, my mind goes in five different directions, at random, without a great deal of focus.

This is where I was last Thursday, the day Ana left. Also for at least part of each day since, but I can sense the flutteryness of my mind settling a bit. I'm focusing more, in part thanks to meditation, in part due to applied effort in my thesis.

This represents my mental states now: less deviation, more focus; only a bit of flittering this way and that. Now, when I try to focus on something, I can more easily and for greater spans of time.

Ahh... This is me in meditation or in total concentration on my thesis. Very nice - no distraction, no deviation of energy or direction. This is me now, in fact, having just spent the last half hour in a meditation with a couple house mates. The key is now to channel the focus into life a bit - into mindfully living each moment. There is a desire lurking in the background to fall into habitual patterns: staring blankly at the computer monitor, surfing news sites, etc - but these mustn't be allowed to drag my focus away, to spring to life the deviations which dominated prior life.

But in the end they will, so long as my focus is not well disciplined, so long as I am not well practiced. Some day, though, the focus will be attained and will not be lost. When I pay my salutations to the Buddha, in a way, I am paying salutations to that day. That day integrity in purpose will not faulter. Om, ah, hum.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Responding to the Terrorist attacks in London

The message from the powers that be is 'business as usual' or else 'the terrorists win'. In a positive development, Tony Blair is calling for dialogue with moderate Muslims. On the other end of the spectrum, US Representative Tom Tancredo called for retaliatory attacks on Muslim holy sites if further terrorist attacks occur, effectively calling for the deliberate murder of innocent people and destruction of militarily insignificant targets in an utterly barbaric manner.

The truth seems to be that we are in a perilous age; that while the evil of dictatorial communism is no longer the rallying cry of the right wing of Western politics (extending beyond the republican party into neo-fascist circles), the new cry of an 'evil' enemy to be defeated quickly surfaced. Read Orwell. Read Machiavelli. The fact is that while the 'left' is not perfect, the right can easily become extremely nasty and manipulative of the common man.

The message of 'business as usual' combined with the prospect of 'perpetual war' is the perfect recipe for creating a subservient populous: people who willingly dedicate themselves to this ideology, abandoning their own dreams. Dreams take time, they take independence in a safe environment and a respect for diversity. All of these are at stake now; threatened not by 'communism' not by 'drugs', but by a new amorphous threat: 'terrorism'.

The war on communism failed because people came to realize that the threat was not as real as it had been imagined. The real threat was between imbeciles in power who refused to communicate. With communication, initiated by and large by Michael Gorbechaev, the threat evaporated. But the story is never so simple: closed, dictatorial societies still exist, some espousing Communist ideals, others of a religious nature, and thus the threat continues (but again not from the ideologies themselves, but from the imbeciles in power).

The war on drugs likewise is a failure; as more people discover that drugs (especially marijuana) are not the cause of insanity and violence in our culture. But 'terrorism' might be the label that neo-fascists were dreaming of: how can anyone claim a benign or positive character to 'terrorism'? It is imperative that we as citizens seek to understand 'terrorism' for what it truly is. We must look to the social context from which it arises, the ideologies it can manipulate, and the desired results. We must not confine ourselves to recent attacks, but to take a long view, questioning whether the Boston Tea Party was not an act of 'terrorism' or the killing of the Archduke Ferdinand. How does his killing differ from US government-sanctioned assassinations?

Of course the wrong thing to do is accept terrorism, in any form, as a legitimate way of getting one's message across. It seems clear that moderate Muslims, as well as anyone else, see murder as an anathema to their religion. But it is clear also that some Muslims, as well as some Christians, Communists, and others, will find justification for murder in their beliefs.

The key to all of this is, I hope, in Mr. Blair’s move: dialogue, as opposed to the retaliatory comments of the US Republican. Freedom requires that we can think for ourselves, that we can listen to others, and that we can use reason to act consistently, fairly with everyone. We must force ourselves to hear all parties, to see murder/suicide as an act either of utter desperation or insanity. If we give voice to the desperate, a breakthrough may occur if it is done before a move to violence is taken. If we bring the insane into the light of conversation, they will be seen for what they are, and they can be dealt with before they can act to harm others.

For those for whom dialogue is no longer an option, those whose wounds of perversion have festered under our collective neglect, force may be our only option. But the mistake our leaders consistently make is to focus all of our energy on these groups, while ignoring the festering wounds of future terror: right-wing extremists, poverty-stricken children of war-torn nations, imbecile leaders in isolated countries, etc.

For my own part, the message is not 'business as usual', but rather to seek out and cultivate dialogue. I will not travel to London to see the sights of the great city as I had planned, but will instead spend that money to help organize a dialogue in Montana when I get back. I think the 'business as usual' of conspicuous spending/consumption of so many of us in the West while so many others suffer under dictatorships or dire economic conditions is a travesty that we must eliminate as quickly as possible. If you really think about the human lives that are lost when you buy a $25 or more meal, or an expensive bottle of wine, or any of the other dozens of wasteful ways we spend our money rather than using it to help end poverty - if you really spend a moment to think about that - then your stomach should really turn. I know mine does.

We are both perpetrators and victims of an ugly system, one that encourages waste while discouraging understanding of the world around us. Think about it. The more you do, the more your own stomach turns, the more nausea you feel for your own waste, the more likely you are to change - to turn off 'prime-time TV' - to put down the expensive toy in the store - to eat a modest dinner, simply grateful that you get to eat at all when over a billion people must live on less than one dollar per day.

It is up to each of us to make a difference, however small. We are culpable in so far as we refuse this responsibility. I am no saint, I too waste. I cannot point fingers, nor do I wish to. I just wish to reduce my own destructive impact and somehow to help others.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Mixing Christianity with indigenous African beliefs: too horrible to imagine

Certainly this isn't the story for all of Africa, nor even for all of Angola, but even if it is exremely isolated (which I doubt), it still merits our urgent attention.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Integrity: cleaning the mirror; unleashing pure light onto the world

I started a post on integrity on July 1st, but it seemed to trail away from my main point to the point where I could neither stop writing nor make sense of what I had written already. The thought which sparked the post was on religious leaders and their use of dishonesty or secrecy to further their own projects. My mind wandered into politics, where I think it became lost in the sheer size, complexity, and darkness of the great 'political machine'. But my point, well the point I was hoping to reach eventually, was that honesty and integrity are essential components of the good life; for our understanding of ourselves, for our relationships with others, for our knowledge of the world, and most importantly, for our efforts to help those we find in need.

In Buddhism two images are often used to represent our fundamental 'nature': a mirror and light. Imagine a mirror, look at one. What do you see? If it is a good mirror, and clean, then you see the world reflected in it without error. If it is dirty, then the world in it is obscured. For most of us, our mirror-nature is very dirty: covered by the dirt of greed and anger, dusty with misunderstanding and laziness, streaked with worries and dislikes. When we find a clean part, a moment of personal clarity, we feel it; we know that there is a bit of truth. But these moments are rare, so most of us accept our condition and try to make the best of it: fulfilling our desires, avoiding our dislikes, etc.

But in Buddhism we are taught, and with meditation quickly experience, that the mirror can be systematically cleaned: greed can be understood and overcome, as with anger, misunderstanding, and the rest. The process is not easy, because it usually means getting really close to those negative things in our life - the muck of existence - so that we can remove them. But there is a process, there is a path. It cannot be given to you, you have to tread it yourself, and you have to do it with your critical faculties fully intact, examining the teachings with as much care (or more) as you would put into buying something like a new house. Buying a terrible house can ruin you financially for up to maybe 30 years, but buying a foolish philosophy or way of life will ruin you much more extensively and for far longer.

So you have to, everyone has to, examine very carefuly the life you are leading, the world-view you have, the things about the world that you take for granted. Don't spend too much time examining others, either. Maybe 10% of your time can be devoted to this, but it becomes all too easy to pick on the mistakes and faults of others so much that this negativity becomes a fault of its own. Note the faults of the world, they are out there, but then get down the nitty gritty of your own dirty mirror. This, after all, is the material right before you. Perhaps paradoxically, cleaning the mirror and seeing the world more clearly make you see more beauty in the world, not more ugliness.

The second analogy is that of radiant light as our true nature. Imagine a brilliant, radiant light emanating from your heart. Imagine it as very very tiny at first, just shooting out glimmers and rays of light. But then imagine it growing, and with it imagine feeling warmth, lightness, joy, and equanimity. Imagine yourself actively building this up inside you until you have a body of pure light, then imagine friends and family coming to join you and your light empowering them, bringing out the pure light within each of their hearts, one by one. This is the power and action of enlightenment: creating and spreading pure joy, warmth, and understanding.

This returns me to the beginning: integrity. What does integrity have to do with all of this? Enlightenment, happiness, warmth, joy: these are nothing other than integrity. Integrity is what you have when you speak and you know your words are meant with love, compassion, and understanding. It is what you have when you can say that if today were the last day of your life, you would have spent it exactly as you just have. It is what you have when you can look in the eye of someone who is causing suffering and tell them to stop: out of compassion for them and for their victim. It is a truthfulness which is not only within you, but is also in the world before you. It is the clarity of the mirror, the illuminating quality of the light. It is the sine qua non of the good life; of love, compassion, and understanding.

Integrity allows us to question others, whether it is our friends who may be making a mistake, or the government which is supposed to represent us, without fear that we ourselves are distorting things, that we are the ones making the mistake or seeing things wrongly. Lacking integrity we follow others, fearing that our faults will become the centerpiece for someone else's ridicule. Lacking integrity we are not taken seriously, like 'the boy who cried wolf'. Lacking integrity our words are confused, our needs cannot be expressed, our wisdom becomes muddled.

This is no mere speculation, either. I may be young, but I have for most of my life now been exceptionally self-aware (even most often to a fault). I long ago turned my critical eye to the world and found its many faults. Anger at them, and to the world in general, blinded me to my own true nature, giving me false notions of superiority (for seeing all the faults when others did not), false nothings of holding the truth (which in fact was nothing more than the affirmation of my anger and skepticism), and false notions about the hearts of many fellow human beings (seeing only faults, blind to the warmth and joy at the heart of each of them).

Now, looking inward, I see that my own lack of integrity has caused so much of my own dissatisfaction in the world, and so much suffering for others around me. I see this in others too, but like I said, only 10% of one's time should be spent worrying about the faults of others: I need the other 90% (perhaps more!) to examine, come to terms with, and overcome my own faults here, so that I can see, and help others to see, the world as it truly is: beautiful.