Ramana Maharshi was one of the most significant spiritual teachers to emerge from India during the first half of the century, and remains widely admired. This recent collection of conversations between him and the many seekers who came to his ashram for guidance contains the essence of his teaching. His concern throughout his long life of imparting his experience to others was to convince his listeners that self-realisation – or enlightenment – is not an alien or mysterious state, but the natural condition of man. This state can be easily discovered by undertaking the self-investigation clearly described in these talks. The lucid instructions to each section provide further illumination of this greater seer’s message.
Archive for September, 2010
Karma has many different names, such as fate, destiny, the law of attraction, what goes around comes around, you reap what you sow, everything comes full circle, likes attract likes, the ebb and flow, and balance in the universe. Basically, karma is an automatic effect or consequence. Most people think that when something bad happens to them, it’s because some “other” person or thing “caused” it to happen.
Say a person was hit by a car; the average person would say that it was caused by the driver of the car who wasn’t paying attention. But with karma, that person was hit by a car because of something that he himself did in the past, or maybe even in a previous physical life. If a person has their house broken into and robbed, it’s because of that person’s OWN previous actions, choices, perceptions, views, attitudes, feelings, intentions, opinions, beliefs, ideas, concepts, and thought processes. This is why “bad” things happen to “good” people. It’s because of something that person did in a past physical life.
So karma means that there is no such thing as a co-incidence, accident, random event, fluke, luck, or chaos. Everything is happening exactly as it needs to according to what we make ourselves to be. Absolutely every little thing, good and bad, eventually catches up to us. There is no outside “cause” of anything. Everything is happening spontaneously on its own, all by itself, as an automatic consequence. What you make yourself to be is a choice. What happens to you as a result of what you are, is not.
If a person likes to eat lots of unhealthy foods on a regular basis, over time that will contribute to disease and illness, but this illness wasn’t “caused” by any outside thing. It was just an automatic consequence of eating unhealthy foods (or stressful negative emotions). It was an effect of one’s own choices, thought processes, and actions. It was one’s own karma.
But karma isn’t just of the negative kind. It’s total balance in the universe. So if a person loves others, in one way or another that love will also come back to that person, from others. You make love happen to yourself by being it yourself. That which supports life, is automatically supported.
Even our thoughts, opinions, and beliefs create karma for oneself. Our thoughts are not just in our heads, but they are literally creating one’s “outside” life as well. What you allow to happen inside of you (in your mind and heart) will happen in your outside world. The outer is a perfect reflection of the inner. The inner and outer are one and the same. They are not separate, they are not different. They are the exact same thing. Your individual world is exactly what you believe it to be. If you believe that other people hate you, they will, and they will treat you that way. If you believe that other people are kind and caring, they will be to you. Every one of us creates our own individual reality with our thoughts and beliefs. Everything you believe, is the truth, but only to you, and only because you believe it’s the truth.
If a person continuously focuses on being financially poor, or on not having enough money, that will be exactly what continues to happen to that person. But if that person were to suddenly change their way of thinking and instead started focusing solely on abundance, plentitude, and having lots of money, that will become their reality. If you think like a poor man, you will be poor. If you think like a rich man, you will be rich. Poor people focus on not having enough, and wealthy people focus on having plenty.
When a person is caught in a hurricane or natural disaster, that’s their karma. When a person is murdered by somebody, that’s their karma. When a person’s body is disfigured or injured, that’s their karma coming back to them. When a person receives a helping hand from somebody, that’s their karma coming back to them. When a person is bitten by a dog, that’s their karma. When a plane crashes, that’s all of those individual people’s karma. When a young child seems to have an amazing gift in playing a musical instrument, or in doing mathematics, that’s their karma from their previous life, and the life before that, and the life before that. What every individual sees in the mirror is their karma. One’s genetics are pre-determined by one’s karma. One is born into the exact life situation that suits their karma. Absolutely everything, all of the time, is karma.
“Whatever you may be, you are being ‘lived’. You are not travelling, as you think: you are being ‘travelled.'” – Wei Wu Wei
Something (positive or negative) is ONLY going to happen to a person if their karma calls for it to happen. In other words, the world is PERFECTLY SAFE and there is nothing to worry about because everything is self-created and brought about by oneself. What’s going to happen, will happen, and there is no avoiding it. One way or another, karma must be worked out. So live happily by choosing to be happy despite life’s circumstances, be kind to “others” at all times, and work on changing yourself inwardly instead of constantly reacting negatively to outside circumstances about which you attracted to yourself in the first place. Self improvement is the answer to everything.
Source: The Truths of Life
What is the most important thing that will happen in the 21st century? The fusion of science and spirituality. That will happen. Why? Because this world in which we live changes, develops, progresses and evolves according to a certain law: the Law of Interpenetration of Dialectic. This law, advocated by German philosopher Georg Hegel, teaches us that “things which oppose and compete with each other come to resemble each other.” If this Hegelian law is correct, science and spirituality will come to resemble each other, merge with each other, and fuse into a higher and greater “something.”
Then, two questions arise in our minds: how will this fusion happen? And how can we promote this fusion? The latter is especially of great importance in the 21st century because now at the beginning of this century, both science and spirituality are faced with their limitations. So I would like to propose three strategies to promote the fusion of science and spirituality.
Strategy 1: Teach Modern Science in the Religious Community (Natural Sciences Approach)
When we learn the latest findings in the forefront of modern science, a sense of wonder naturally comes to our mind. For instance, according to the latest scientific knowledge, this universe was created from a “quantum vacuum” 13.7 billion years ago. At the beginning, the quantum vacuum created a countless number of bubbles that are called “baby universes.” And most of the baby universes disappeared shortly after their birth. But among those countless baby universes, the universe in which we live has miraculously survived. A sense of wonder naturally comes to our minds when we learn this scientific fact about the creation of the universe, and this sense of wonder is indispensable for a religious mind and spirituality. Therefore, teaching the latest science is one of the best ways for people to gain a religious mind and spirituality in today’s world.
Strategy 2: Deepen Modern Psychology Through the Wisdom of Traditional Religions and Spirituality (Human Sciences Approach)
The most important question for the science of psychology in the 21st century is “Who am I?” To answer this profound question, we need to explore the depths of our mind, especially the world of the subconsciousness advocated by Sigmund Freud, and the world of the collective subconsciousness advocated by by Carl Jung.
But the wisdom of traditional religions and spirituality has already been exploring such worlds for the past several thousand years. For instance, Buddhism has been exploring the world of the collective subconscious through the notions of manas-vijñāna (the seventh consciousness) and ālaya-vijñāna (the eighth consciousness) for several thousand years. So, we need to deepen modern psychology through the vast wisdom of traditional religions and spirituality fostered throughout its long history.
Then, one important question arises in our minds: Where can we find and observe the world of the collective subconscious? In the Internet communities. If we look into the Internet communities, we can see and feel the world of the collective subconscious of people. Also, in the Internet communities, we can express different aspects of ourselves, multiple personalities, by using “avatars” or being anonymous. And this is one good way to find the answer to the deep question, “Who am I?”
Strategy 3: Create a New Economic Principle by Combining the Internet Revolution and the Wisdom of Compassion in Traditional Religions and Spirituality (Social Sciences Approach)
Modern capitalism has been based upon “monetary economy,” which refers to economic activities of people motivated by acquiring money. That is the reason why modern capitalism tends to stimulate the greedy mind of people, and tends to become so-called “greedy capitalism.” But the Internet revolution that started in 1995 has been reviving an old economic principle called “gift economy” or “voluntary economy,” which refers to economic activities of people motivated by satisfying the mind, through, for instance, affection and compassion for other people. So, if we combine the Internet revolution, modern economic science, and the wisdom of compassion in traditional religions and spirituality, we will be able to create a “compassion capitalism” in the 21st century.
These are the three strategies that I propose in order to promote the fusion of science and spirituality. And this is not just a vision or strategies for the future; this is a movement that is already starting to happen in the world.
For the past decade Islam has been suffering from fear almost everywhere you look. Arab countries are afraid of being invaded by the U.S. in the wake of the invasion of Iraq. Sunni Muslims are nervous about the rise of Iran to a nuclear state dominated by Shiites. But on a far more personal level, everyone is afraid to say anything about Muhammad that would inflame the faithful. I’ve experienced this recently myself. On tour for a book about Muhammad — one that I wrote primarily to tell Westerners that the Prophet led an exciting, inspiring life — the first word that comes up in every interview is fatwa. The first question is “Aren’t you afraid to write this book?”
Every religion takes sole possession of its founder. That’s what makes it strong. That and claiming that your version of God is the only correct one. But nobody who writes books about Jesus or Buddha does so in fear. The irony is that the stronger the faith, the more open it is to intolerance. Fundamentalist Christians believe that everyone else is an outsider to the true faith, including other Christians. But Islam has become locked down to an extraordinary degree. Those of us who want to write as sympathetically as possible about Muhammad, without giving in to official hagiography, are warned off. We are made to walk on eggshells. Saddest of all, those Muslims who are pleased to see a novel about Muhammad’s life scan it nervously to make sure that nothing is out of place.
Isn’t it time to make Muhammad a safe topic? The Danish cartoonist who lampooned the Prophet stepped into taboo territory since Islam forbids any physical depiction of him. But Islamic art over the centuries has come to terms with the strictures against painting portraits and taking photos of people’s faces. Adaptation means survival, and those forces in Islam that don’t want to adapt, far from preserving their faith for eternity, are endangering it.
The irony of the situation is double, actually. Muhammad recognized Jews and Christians as people of the Book, along with Muslims. They are not outsiders but fellow worshipers. Islam was meant to be an umbrella that includes them and tolerates their faith. So the fundamentalist streak in Islam isn’t true to the spirit of the Prophet. The very notion that the Koran should never be translated from the Arabic and never commented upon was born (so far as I can ascertain) among his followers after the Prophet’s death. As a result, the other people of the Book have passed through reform movements and adaptations that have been denied to the Muslim faithful.
Surrounding the Prophet with veneration is one thing. We can all understand and respect that. But surrounding him with threats, a kind of theological barbed wire, is another thing. It isn’t acceptable to the outside world, and moderate Arabs would be well served to speak out against it. I don’t mean to dictate to anyone how they should follow their religion. But we’ve come to an impasse if no one is allowed to speak the truth about Muhammad or comment upon his life. As long as freedom of thought is considered the enemy, the Islamic world will be embroiled in fear forever.
In 2007 I attended a talk at Cornell University by Dr. Steve Weinberg, the 1979 Nobel Laureate in physics for his work on electromagnetic and weak forces, on the topic of “Science and Religion.” Dr. Weinberg did not mince any words when he categorically stated that religion is the cause of major problems in today’s world. Science, he stated, has proven to be objective in its outlook, and it only speaks the beneficial truth.
As I returned to my dorm after the talk, I mulled over Dr. Weinberg’s statements. As a young seeker, I looked towards both physics and religion for answers to the big questions about the purpose of my existence. I was often puzzled by the fact that every person that I admired on both sides seemed to have a different version of what life ought to be, what a “good” man is, how to live, and so on.
It became quite apparent to me that both science and religion could be used for positive transformational work and for the perpetration of deeply hurtful activities, and both had the capacity to explain “truth” in deeply philosophical and practical ways. It was not a question of which was better; it was more a question of who used it and for what purpose. It became evident that the core problem in this debate is that of the human nature itself — its hopelessly self-fulfilling side called the ego.
Modern psychology has been wrestling with the vast territory of the human ego for a great while now, and its complexity continues to mystify us. Even before I learned about Freudian ideas on the ego, I first encountered the concept of the ego explicitly mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, India’s classic text on yoga and spiritual wisdom.
According to the Gita, there is a fundamental difference between “real” ego and what it defines as the “false” ego. Real ego is our very essence, the consciousness that makes us aware and awake to reality. The false ego is a false identity crafted to preserve the sense of being the most significant and the most important all the time. In short, it is a narcissistic search for being loved, validated and appreciated. This is what we generally refer to as the ego. The Gita further describes the subtleties of the ego and how it manifests moment to moment in our thoughts, words and deeds.
The concept seems to be stretched too far when we first read about it. But when we honestly study our own lives, we can clearly isolate various episodes of how this tendency manifests itself in our personality, either covertly or explicitly. The events can range from simple conversations on which football team is the best to intense debates in boardrooms on the next important decision for the organization. What’s worse is that the ego blinds us from seeing its own ploy, the ultimate of which is rationalized excuses for avoiding honest introspection and admittance.
None of us has navigated through life without encountering the effects of the ego, be it in the workplace or home. Our own behavior is, at times, strange, unsettling and unobjective. Some of this is tolerable, and some of this is decidedly unpleasant or outright disastrous. Yet, while everyone is busy gathering insight into the way other people act and behave, few are willing to look so intently at themselves.
This dynamic of interaction also applies to the way that groups of people interact with each other. We want to know what makes other people or groups tick, yet are afraid to discover anything upsetting about ourselves. We would like to point out the faults of systems and people as if we had X-ray vision, while not really wanting others to see our weaknesses and shortcomings.
Capitalism further aggravates this mentality by simply rewarding us for producing enjoyable and affirmative content. Even academia, which prides itself on objectivity, is more geared towards pleasing companies and corporations that can provide grants and financial assistance.
In this atmosphere, we are less conscious of our severe mental shortcomings and less inclined to be skeptical of our own opinions. Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway once gave a speech called “The Psychology of Human Misjudgment,” and in his talk he revealed our natural weakness, in which we only pick out evidence that supports our views, or we pick out weakness in the other that makes us looks better.
We are cognitive misers; we try to think as little as possible, especially about our deep inner motivations. In today’s times where we pride ourselves on progress in cognitive science and search capabilities, this tendency leaves a huge cognitive deficit. And the thought of internal combat further takes us away from attempting to rid ourselves from the shackles of the ego.
The ego is a master of disguise. One of the greatest dangers of progressive work is that the ego tempts to sidestep deep introspective work by leaping into self-righteous advancement too soon. This is because the ego fancies itself as more “advanced” than it actually is.
How many “rational” decisions made by heads of state have caused havoc in the lives of millions of people? How much scientific research has been employed to cause direct harm to our environment? How many first-year novices of religion have persuaded themselves to believe that they are just about ready for sainthood only to find their misconceptions and behavior gives rise to scandals and violence?
The Bhagavad Gita’s prescription to combat this crafty enemy within us is to create a culture of introspection and self-knowledge whose basic components lie in courage and humility — a healthy skepticism of our own “goodness” combined with an unending desire to learn more about ourselves.
They work as powerful radars that uncover the camouflage of the ego and disarm it. Real self-knowledge is an invaluable guardian against self-deception mechanisms of the ego, and any true and beneficial culture of transformation will teach us this. And the more we practice this awareness, the more we can realize that it is not systems that are good or evil; rather it is our ego-centric adoption of those systems that we need to explore before we make those judgments.
Ramnath Subramanian graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in 2000 and holds an MBA from Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management. He has worked for Deloitte Consulting as a strategy consultant and most recently as an Investment Banker for Bank of America. Currently, Ramnath serves as the CEO and President of The Bhakti Center, a not-for-profit education and cultural center that provides services in yoga, meditation, vegetarian cooking, art, dance, music, and philosophy centered around Bhakti Yoga, one of India’s oldest schools of yoga.
He has taught the Bhagavad Gita, the classic text on yoga, at universities (Cornell University and the University of Albany) as well as in various yoga schools, including the Kripalu Yoga Center and Jivamukti. His dissection of the Gita relies upon his erudition in a wide range of topics, from economics, life sciences, history, current events, and yoga traditions.
“We dance round in a ring and suppose, / But the Secret sits in the middle and knows,” Robert Frost wrote, looking in from the outside. Looking out from the inside, Chuang-tzu wrote, “When we understand, we are at the center of the circle, and there we sit while Yes and No chase each other around the circumference.” This anonymous center—which is called God in Jewish, Christian, and Moslem cultures, and Tao, Self, or Buddha in the great Eastern Traditions—is the realest of realities.
Self is everywhere, shining forth from all beings,
vaster than the vast, subtler than the most subtle,
unreachable, yet nearer than breath, than heartbeat.
Eye cannot see it, ear cannot hear it nor tongue
utter it; only in deep absorption can the mind,
grown pure and silent, merge with the formless truth.
As soon as you find it, you are free; you have found
you have solved the great riddle; your heart forever is
Whole, you enter the Whole. Your personal self
returns to its radiant, intimate, deathless source.
Most of what we call religious poetry is the poetry of longing: for God, for the mother’s face. But the poems in The Enlightened Heart are poems of fulfillment. They were written by the Secret, who has many aliases. Sitting or dancing, all these poets have found themselves inside the circle—some of them a step within the circumference, some far in, some at dead center. Looking out from the center, you can talk about the circumference. But really, there is no circumference. Everyone, everything, is joyfully included.
Stephen Mitchell was educated at Amherst College, the University of Paris, and Yale University. He is widely known for his translations and adaptations of ancient and modern classics of poetry and wisdom. Languages that Mitchell has translated from include German, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, and Danish. He has also adapted classics from languages he doesn’t know, including Chinese (Tao Te Ching, The Second Book of the Tao), Sanskrit (Bhagavad Gita), and Akkadian or ancient Babylonian (Gilgamesh). He has written a book of poems, two books of fiction, and the nonfiction book The Gospel According to Jesus, and co-wrote two books with Byron Katie, Loving What Is and A Thousand Names for Joy. Currently he is working on a verse translation of Homer’s Iliad, which is due to be published by Free Press in the fall of 2011. When he is not writing, he likes to—in no particular order—think about writing, think about not writing, not think about writing, and not think about not writing. His favorite color is blue, which happens to be the color of his wife’s eyes. You can read extensive excerpts from all his books on his website.
I begin with some words from Thomas Jefferson, from a letter to John Adams: “Yes, we did produce a near-perfect republic. But will they keep it? Or will they, in the enjoyment of plenty, lose the memory of freedom? Material abundance without character is the path of destruction.”
You may rightly say that with so many shadows and challenges and with the avalanche of avarice accosting us, how can we ever deal with them in such a way that our higher humanity, our required human, is not compromised? We can either undergo a progressive deactivation of the conditioned and pathogenic personality wrought by present civilization, the way of the excellent therapist, or we can find the ways and means to the emergence of a more profound awareness in which the experience of being and the felt meaning of life have their foundation, and which, in spite of constituting our true nature, lies ordinarily, in our so-called civilized condition, in a darkened, or veiled condition — as if asleep. With regard to methods, probably both are appropriate here: the release of old conditions and the discovery of ways into the light.
When Freud wrote Civilization and Its Discontents, I doubt that he had the idea of the dazzling darkness that lay beneath the darkness of civilization. We can learn to wake up, and, in so doing, find ourselves re-patterned to what I have been calling the required human.
Not only has my experience working with individuals, groups and cultures over the last four decades and in over 100 countries nurtured my trust in the intrinsic goodness of humans and in the individual’s possibility of leaving behind destructiveness, but it has also nurtured my hope in collective transformation; and now that we are undergoing a planetary crisis, I must admit to being apocalyptic — if by this one means a person who believes that, in spite of our life-or-death crisis, it is within us to ensure that it may not be a fatal one.
As Arnold Toynbee has well argued, many civilizations have risen and faded away, and others (like our own) have been transformed through something akin to a hybridization. But there is yet to be a civilization that undergoes that death-and-rebirth process that we have come to know to be the essence of individual transformation, as manifest through the experience of those who have completed it: the prophets, enlightened individuals and mythic heroes. In light of such a conception, it is appropriate that we hope that the decaying structure of Western Christian Civilization learns to die well, so that the regeneration of our social body may take place in the best of possible conditions.
How can we not hope for such a collective death-and-rebirth when the commercial interests of the powerful devastate our environment, our values, our quality of life, our education, our culture, and even life itself? And can we not hope that the destruction of life and the mind may at least serve to stimulate awareness and thus accelerate a regenerative process, in the same way that diseases, by stimulating the organism’s defenses, can become the indirect cause of their own cure? Funny as it may sound, it was not at all absurd for the Sufi E. J. Gold to write during the 1980s in a humor magazine, “As Brother Rabbit said, maybe civilization is nature’s way of telling us to slow down.”
We are swept by an impetuous current. Indeed, a cultural death is evident not only in our loss of values and in the degradation of wisdom into mere information, but also in the generalized devaluation of our earlier points of reference. Thus, a great part of the Western world’s population is now disenchanted with governments, authorities, experts, ideologies, and even with science and philosophy, not to mention religions. “It is unforgivable that so many problems from the past are still with us, absorbing vast energies and resources desperately needed for nobler purposes,” said U Thant — then Secretary-General of the United Nations — as early as 1970, on the occasion of the organization’s anniversary. After proceeding to review some of these problems from the past, such as the armaments race, racism, violations of human rights, and “dreams of power and domination instead of fraternal coexistence,” Secretary-General U Thant observed:
While these antiquated concepts and attitudes persist, the rapid pace of change around us breeds new problems which cry for the world’s collective attention and care: the increasing discrepancy between rich and poor nations, the scientific and technological gap, the population explosion, the deterioration of the environment, the urban proliferation, the drug problem, the alienation of youth, the excessive consumption of resources by insatiable societies and institutions. The very survival of a civilized and humane society seems to be at stake.
It has been recognized that the situation requires an interdisciplinary approach that has come into vogue worldwide. Yet beyond the interdisciplinary approach, I believe it is important to attend to the heart of the macro-problem, that is, the fundamental ill from which the diverse aspects of our problematique derive, in much the same way that different bodily symptoms are, at base, manifestations of the same disease. My friend Claudio Naranjo believes that is found in the dominance of he patriarchy in all forms. I agree with him in part, but I also think that it comes from the fact that we are not yet collectively aware of what is occurring on this planet and in our souls that lie beneath the distractions of so many challenges. This is the cosmic agenda that is now ours, and the need for the required human to respond to that agenda. Let me pose several arguments here.
First, the issues of the patriarchy. It began in the Bronze Age, a rending of the roots of consciousness from the sense of spiritual partnership and divine engagement. As the remarkable work of Marija Gimbutsas and others has shown, the culture of Europe from about 8500 to 3500 B.C. was essentially a neolithic agrarian economy accruing around the rites and worship of the Mother Goddess. The findings of archaeologists James Mellaart in Catal Huyuk in Turkey and of Gimbutsas in south eastern Europe reveal civilizations of extremely complex and sophisticated arts, crafts technology and social organization.
Further, as an immense amount of evidence indicates, these were basically non-patriarchal, egalitarian societies, with descent and inheritance passed through the mother, and with women playing key roles in all aspects of life and work. The art of this period is non-heroic; indeed, there are no signs of heroics, conquests or captives. That came later, much later. Instead, the art abounds with scenes and symbols from nature, with sun and water, serpents, birds and butterflies, and everywhere, images, figurines and votive offerings of the goddess. All in all, one gains the impression of a gentle, high culture that was nurturing, playful, and pacific.
This culture was exported to Crete, where it flourished in populous, well-organized cities, multistoried palaces, networks of fine roads, productive farms, an almost-modern system of drainage and irrigation works, a rich economy with high living standards, and the lively and joyous artistic style so characteristic of Cretan life and sensibility. Again, this was a culture of male-female equality and partnership, and again, the spiritual authority and guiding principles were those of the Mother Goddess. It was in this civilization that Athena arose, primarily as an aspect of the triple goddess in her role as patroness of arts, crafts and sciences.
The gentle civilizations perished under the marauding bands of Indo-Aryan invaders. (Indo-Arayan is a generic term for the waves of invaders that conquered many peoples during this period. Specifically, these invaders were the Aryans in India, the Hittites and Mittani in the Fertile Crescent, the Luwians in Anatolia, the Kurgans in Eastern Europe, and the Achaeans and, later, the Dorians in Greece and Crete.) Warrior nomads, they not only imposed their own rigid authoritarian rule, replacing matricentric values with patriarchal ones, but also inflicted an ideology and the style of divided consciousness (such as we’ve just discussed) that shattered the finely wrought symbiosis between humans, nature, culture and spiritual realities.
Their consciousness divided, their loyalties uncertain, the invaders felt both drawn and terrified by the gentle complexity of the high civilizations in which they found themselves. They were both fascinated and frightened by the pervasiveness of its eroticisms. Thus they muscled and armored themselves against the enticement of its sensualities. They feared, dreaded, and violated the places and persons who bore witness to the ongoing communication between seen and unseen orders that they themselves had long since lost. (We see a late version of this in The Iliad when the holy communicant and prophetess Cassandra is ravaged and the altar of Athena is defiled.) Thus, to keep up his separateness, the patriarchal hero invader, whether he be in Greece, India, or the Fertile Crescent, dreads the caress. When he gets close, it is to subdue by duel or rape.
Not that these invaders didn’t adopt many of the ways and skills of the more ancient cultures, as the Achaeans, for example, adopted much of the Minoan culture. But they did so in such a way as to tear out the feminine threads in the cultural tapestry, leaving ragged social fabrics, missing many pieces, lacking many parts. The patriarchal systems that began then were found to have invaded everything, and what we have now is the vast, planet-wide sunset of this period.
And thus the devastation of today.
As Chris Hedges has written:
At no period in American history has our democracy been in such peril or has the possibility of totalitarianism been as real. Our way of life is over. Our profligate consumption is finished. Our children will never have the standard of living we had. And poverty and despair will sweep across the landscape like a plague. This is the bleak future. There is nothing President Obama can do to stop it. It has been decades in the making. It cannot be undone with a trillion or two trillion dollars in bailout money.
Our empire is dying. Our economy has collapsed. How will we cope with our decline? Will we cling to the absurd dreams of a superpower and a glorious tomorrow or will we responsibly face our stark new limitations? Will we heed those who are sober and rational, those who speak of a new simplicity and humility, or will we follow the demagogues and charlatans who rise up out of the slime in moments of crisis to offer fantastic visions? Will we radically transform our system to one that protects the ordinary citizen and fosters the common good, that defies the corporate state, or will we employ the brutality and technology of our internal security and surveillance apparatus to crush all dissent? We won’t have to wait long to find out.
There are a few isolated individuals who saw it coming. The political philosophers Sheldon S. Wolin, John Ralston Saul and Andrew Bacevich, as well as writers such as Noam Chomsky, Chalmers Johnson, David Korten and Naomi Klein, along with activists such as Bill McKibben and Ralph Nader, rang the alarm bells. They were largely ignored or ridiculed. Our corporate media and corporate universities proved, when we needed them most, intellectually and morally useless.
Sheldon Wolin argues that a failure to dismantle our vast and overextended imperial projects, coupled with the economic collapse, is likely to result in inverted totalitarianism. This phrase “inverted totalitarianism” describes our system of power. Inverted totalitarianism, unlike classical totalitarianism, does not revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader. It finds its expression in the anonymity of the corporate state.
It purports to cherish democracy, patriotism and the Constitution while cynically manipulating internal levers to subvert and thwart democratic institutions. Political candidates are elected in popular votes by citizens, but they must raise staggering amounts of corporate funds to compete. They are beholden to armies of corporate lobbyists in Washington or state capitals who write the legislation. A corporate media controls nearly everything we read, watch or hear and imposes a bland uniformity of opinion or diverts us with trivia and celebrity gossip. In classical totalitarian regimes, such as Nazi fascism or Soviet communism, economics was subordinate to politics.
“Under inverted totalitarianism the reverse is true,” Wolin writes. “Economics dominates politics — and with that domination comes different forms of ruthlessness.” As balance to this kind of hopeless thinking, Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, writes to Obama:
But political possibilities are shaped in part by the public discourse of the president and the administration, and it is here that you can have a huge impact. Your presidency will have lasting significance if you dedicate your energy to legitimizing a new set of values for our society, or what the Network of Spiritual Progressives calls a New Bottom Line for American society. Instead of judging institutions, social policies, corporations, legislation, a presidency, an economic plan, or even personal behavior as “rational,” “productive,” or “efficient” primarily in terms of how much money or power has been accumulated,
we need to also focus our attention on how much love and kindness, generosity and caring for others, and ethical and ecological sensitivity have been generated. We should measure our progress by how much we’ve increased our capacities to recognize others as embodiments of the sacred, by how much we’ve increased our capacities to respond to the grandeur and mystery of the universe with awe, wonder, and radical amazement. If you can help Americans recognize that our well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet and the well-being of the planet itself, and that well-being has to be judged in terms of a New Bottom Line that includes material well-being but goes far beyond that, you will earn a significant place in the history of the human race.
The Work of Our Time
After President Obama and his administration took office there was, for a while, a spirit of renewal in the air, framed by feelings of optimism and hope. Many of us sensed that long-neglected problems could now be honestly grappled with, and that we would find the courage needed to envision and build a future worthy of our humanity. Given the challenges of the last 18 months, some of those hopes have dimmed. Nevertheless, new social research in Europe, Japan and the U.S. confirms a willingness to deal with the big issues and think globally.
Many people worldwide are making a fundamental shift to values of ecological sustainability, personal development, and hope for change. Many say they see themselves as citizens of the planet as well as of their own country. What is extraordinary is that it is not just a single country or region that is shifting its values; our whole planet is developing a capability to take up a larger view of what we can do. This shift in deep priorities and goals is a wave of change that can carry all of us into a wiser future and come together to build a global civilization.
At the same time, all of us — from ordinary people to international institutions — are hurting. This is because we have put off dealing with critical challenges that now are undermining the world we grew up with. The most serious challenge to our civilization is that generated from the entanglement of energy, environment and the economy. The most urgent of our challenges are the current financial meltdown and the escalating effects of climate change. We are no longer experiencing occasional crises in an otherwise healthy system. We are now in the midst of a series of cascading crises of the system itself.
Communism collapsed because it was not economically realistic. Now unregulated free market capitalism is collapsing because it is not being ecologically realistic. Business as usual, founded on a mantra of unrestricted growth and development, is no longer sustainable. As we look ahead, we can expect an accelerating stream of crises, emanating seemingly out of nowhere, like last year’s financial meltdown, and reverberating around the world with unpredictable, destabilizing and cascading effects. Crises will only hit harder and be tougher to overcome until human civilization either declines into ruin or human ingenuity creates a higher-level vision of the future that will usher in a new era in human affairs. It is this challenge, this complexity, that frames the sense of the need for PanGaia, a planetary civilization that cares for the well-being of all peoples and the planet.
What Needs to Be Done?
We urgently need to come together to make sense of our time in history. We need to inquire as deeply as we can, not only to see what the facts are, but what principles and design criteria we need to apply to understand our challenges and frame our decisions. We need to build whole-system solutions that take all aspects of our humanity into account. What is at stake is nothing less than the shape of human existence on planet earth. What is required is nothing more than a shift in human consciousness. As Einstein observed, only with a different consciousness can old problems be solved. All of us must work together to create the future we seek, combining facts and values in a new way for a new time. This is the time to envision a new story, perhaps even a planetary civilization with high individuation of cultures.
I am dedicated to bringing together people in many fields and cultures to envision what PanGaia, a “world that works,” would actually look like. I am inspired to do this because of an elderly man whom I met as a teenager and with whom I would take walks in New York’s Central Park. He told me that the people of my time would be “taking the tiller of the world.” But, he warned, they cannot go directly but must go in spirals, touching upon every people, every culture, every kind of consciousness.
It is then, he said, that the noosphere, the field of mind, will awaken, and we will rebuild the Earth. He took my hands and looked at me intently. “Jeanne, remain always true to yourself, but move ever upwards towards greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourself united with all those who, from every direction, every culture, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge. Ah, so much I wish I could live to see it.”
“See what, Mr. Tayer?” (I called him Mr. Tayer because his long French name was too hard to pronounce.)
It seemed that he didn’t hear my question. Instead, he seemed to already be seeing something else. He seemed to be in ecstasy. He began to talk, in faltering but eloquent spasms of speech. “All around us, to the right and left, in front and behind, above and below, we have only to go a little beyond the frontier of sensible appearances in order to see the divine welling up and showing through. See, over there, in that cherry tree, in that rock, in that child. By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers.”
Mr. Tayer continued to speak about everything — war, pain, beauty, death, rebirth. He told me the present chaos was not the end of the world but the labor pains of a new Earth and a new humanity coming into finished form. At the end his voice dropped, and he whispered almost in prayer, “Omega…omega…omega…” Finally, he looked up and said to me quietly, “Au revoir, Jeanne.”
“Au revoir, Mr. Tayer,” I replied, “I’ll meet you at the same time next Tuesday.” For some reason, Champ, my fox terrier who always went on our walks together, didn’t want to budge, and when I pulled him along, he whimpered, tail down between his legs, looking back at Mr. Tayer.
The following Tuesday I was waiting where we always met, at the corner of Park Avenue and 84th Street, but he didn’t come. The following Thursday I waited again. Still he didn’t come. The dog looked up at me sadly. For the next eight weeks I continued to wait, but he never came again. It turned out that he had died suddenly that Easter Sunday, but I didn’t find that out for a long time.
But his visionary words stayed etched in my memory. Years later I read his ideas about the noosphere in his book The Phenomenon of Man — for Mr. Tayer was the great priest-scientist-visionary Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who had lived across the street from me at the Jesuit Rectory of St. Ignatius. In it, he wrote:
A glow ripples outward from the first spark of conscious reflection. The point of ignition grows larger. The fires spreads in ever widening circles till finally the whole planet is covered in incandescence. Only one interpretation, only one name can be found worthy of this grand phenomenon. Much more coherent and just as extensive as any preceding layer, it is really a new layer, the “thinking layer,” which since its germination … has spread over and above the world of plants and animals. In other words, outside and above the biosphere is the noosphere. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959, p. 182)
Dr. Jean Houston, scholar, philosopher and researcher in human capacities, is one of the foremost visionary
thinkers and doers of our time. She is long regarded as one of the principal founders of the Human Potential
She holds a B.A. from Barnard College, a Ph.D. in psychology from the Union Graduate School and a Ph.D. in religion from the Graduate Theological Foundation. She has also been the recipient of honorary doctorates.
Jean Houston: why we are here.
From the New York Times bestselling author of Buddha and Jesus comes the page-turning and soul-stirring story of Muhammad. This riveting novel captures the spellbinding life story of the great and often misunderstood Prophet.
At a time when Islam is both the world’s fastest-growing religion and a source of controversy on the world stage, Deepak Chopra takes us back to the origins of this great and often misunderstood faith in MUHAMMAD: A Story of the Last Prophet is the latest in Chopra’s series of “teaching novels” depicting the founders of the world’s great religions, which began with his New York Times bestsellers Buddha and Jesus.
“A great surprise awaited me when I began writing the story of Muhammad,” Chopra says in an introductory note. “Among all the founders of the great world religions, Muhammad is the most like us.” An orphan raised by an uncle and surrounded by a large extended clan, Muhammad lived a conventional life well into adulthood, becoming a successful merchant, marrying well, and raising a family. “What is extraordinary,” Chopra says, “is that there are so many marks of common humanity in Muhammad’s transformation.”
That transformation begins with Muhammad’s terrifying encounter with the archangel Gabriel in a cave outside of Mecca. Unable to process the experience, he tries to hide from it at first, before gradually coming to realize that he has been chosen as the instrument through which God will work His will. With that realization, Muhammad’s life is irrevocably changed. “There is an inner man that nobody sees,” he tells his daughter. “Now he is on the outside, and the outer man, he is gone forever.”
Muhammad’s task is to dispel centuries of ignorance and superstition by doing away with idols and multiple deities, uniting the warring tribes under a common faith in the one true God. At first he shares his message with a small circle of family and friends, but ultimately begins preaching in public, which earns him many enemies. After a failed assassination attempt, he flees to Yathrib (Medina). There his transformation continues, as Muhammad becomes a warrior of God who must confront the armies of the infidel.
Chopra tells Muhammad’s story through a series of narrators that represents a cross-section of seventh-century Middle Eastern society: A Christian hermit, a Jewish scribe, a slave, a mendicant, a wet nurse, a merchant, Muhammad’s beloved wife and children, his bitterest enemy—and even the archangel Gabriel. Each has a part to play in the spiritual development of a man who claimed no divinity for himself, yet established one of the world’s great religions.
“I know that Muhammad suffers under centuries of disapproval outside the Muslim world,” Chopra writes. “Ours is not the first age to react suspiciously when told that Islam means peace.” By exploring the life—and the humanity—of Muhammad, Chopra performs an important service by fostering a better understanding of a vibrant, vital faith that continues to transform the world.
“One of the most imaginative and touching biographies of Muhammad….Chopra’s grasp of Muhammad’s life and mission extends his range in a surprising direction; his popularization is welcome.” — Publishers Weekly
“Compellingly told, this is not only good storytelling, it also helps readers,
especially non-Muslims, better understand the complexities and contradictions surrounding Islam.” — Booklist
“Higher consciousness is universal. It is held out as the ultimate goal of life on earth. Without guides who reached higher consciousness, the world would be bereft of its greatest visionaries—fatally bereft. Muhammad sensed this aching gap in the world around him. He appeals to me most because he remade the world by going inward. That’s the kind of achievement only available on a spiritual path. In the light of what the Prophet achieved, he raises my hope that all of us who lead everyday lives can be touched by the divine.”
—Deepak Chopra, from the Author’s Note in MUHAMMAD: A Story of the Last Prophet
About The Author
Deepak Chopra is the founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, California, and Manhattan, New York, and is acknowledged as one of the master teachers of Eastern philosophy in the Western World. He has written more than fifty-five books and has been a bestselling author for decades with over a dozen titles on the New York Times bestseller lists, including Buddha, Jesus, The Third Jesus, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, The Path to Love, and many others.
A Story of the Last Prophet
By Deepak Chopra
HarperOne, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
October 2010 s Hardcover, $25.99 s ISBN: 9780061782428
Commentary on Book Launching on Sept 21, 2010 by Deepak Chopra at the Riverside Church, New York by evolutionarymystic
The book launching event witnessed a unique convergence of three aspects of ancient and traditional cultures and religions being showcased in the presence of a full-packed hall of attendees and fans of Deepak Chopra. A Hindu by birth, Deepak authored more than 50 books, one of which the most recent one entitled ” Muhammad – A Story of the Last Prophet” was launched in the interior church hall – an event that may seem ‘ sacrilegious ‘ if it was held in some countries that view their places of worships as ‘holy’.
And to add spice to this event, Deepak invited his rock and roll Pakistani singer to accompany his reciting of poems by Rumi with the strumming of the guitar and humming the sounds of Allah.
All in all, it was an inspirational evening to remember – with the audience joining in the singing of John Lenon’s “Imagine” lead by Salman Ahmed, UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador
Located on the Upper West Side, on the edge of the Morningside and Harlem communities of New York City, the edifice is modeled after the 13th Century gothic cathedral in Chartres, France. Its gothic tower stands as a beacon to the world and continues to bring people with very different perspectives together. A bird’s eye-view of The Riverside Church from the Hudson River with its surrounding community in the background. Surrounding the church are religious and educational institutions and the public parks of Morningside Heights and Harlem. The Riverside Church is situated at one of the highest points of New York City, overlooking the Hudson River and 122nd Street.
Interior: From The Inside Looking Out…
In the Nave of The Riverside Church, the strivings and aspirations of humanity pervade which is a tribute to its founders, architects, artists, and craftsmen, and to their dedication to the glory of God.
The Labyrinth on the floor of the chancel has been adapted from the maze at Chartres, one of the few such medieval designs in existence.
The pulpit has welcomed speakers from far and near: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached his famous anti-Vietnam War sermon from this pulpit; Nelson Mandela addressed the nation during an interfaith celebration welcoming him to America; Marian Wright-Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund spoke about the need to provide quality healthcare to all children; and the well-known Dr. Tony Campolo delivered a sermon concerning affluence in America.
Rock & Roll Jihad
A Muslim Rock Star’s Revolution
“The story you are about to read is the story of a light-bringer….Salman Ahmad inspires me to reach always for the greatest heights and never to fear….Know that his story is a part of our history.”
— Melissa Etheridge, from the Introduction
With 30 million record sales under his belt, and with fans including Bono and Al Gore, Pakistanborn Salman Ahmad is renowned for being the first rock & roll star to destroy the wall that divides the West and the Muslim world. Rock & Roll Jihad is the story of his incredible journey.
Facing down angry mullahs and oppressive dictators who wanted all music to be banned from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Salman Ahmad rocketed to the top of the music charts, bringing Westernstyle rock and pop to Pakistani teenagers for the first time. His band Junoon became the U2 of Asia, a sufi – rock group that broke boundaries and sold a record number of albums. But Salman’s story began in New York, where he spent his teen years learning to play guitar, listening to Led Zeppelin, hanging out at rock clubs and Beatles Fests, making American friends, and dreaming of rock-star fame. That dream seemed destined to die when his family returned to Pakistan and Salman was forced to follow the strictures of a newly religious — and stratified — society.
He finished medical school, met his soul mate, and watched his beloved funkytown of Lahore transform with the rest of Pakistan under the rule of Zia into a fundamentalist dictatorship: morality police arrested couples holding hands in public, Little House on the Prairie and Live Aid were banned from television broadcasts, and Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers proliferated on college campuses via the Afghani resistance to Soviet occupation in the north.
Undeterred, the teenage Salman created his own underground jihad: his mission was to bring his beloved rock music to an enthusiastic new audience in South Asia and beyond. He started a traveling guitar club that met in private Lahore spaces, mixing Urdu love poems with Casio synthesizers, tablas with Fender Stratocasters, and ragas with power chords, eventually joining his first pop band, Vital Signs. Later, he founded Junoon, South Asia’s biggest rock band, which was followed to every corner of the world by a loyal legion of fans called Junoonis.
As his music climbed the charts, Salman found himself the target of religious fanatics and power-mad politicians desperate to take him and his band down. But in the center of a new generation of young Pakistanis who go to mosques as well as McDonald’s, whose religion gives them compassion for and not fear of the West, and who see modern music as a “rainbow bridge” that links their lives to the rest of the world, nothing could stop Salman’s star from rising.
View Here Rock out with author and musician Salman Ahmad’s ROCK N ROLL JIHAD
Today, Salman continues to play music and is also a UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador, traveling the world as a spokesperson and using the lessons he learned as a musical pioneer to help heal the wounds between East and West — lessons he shares in this illuminating memoir.
New York, USA — The “Shimano Problem” and its recent resolution make this an opportune time to briefly explore the subject of Buddhism’s integration into the West.
Eido Shimano Roshi had been the abbot of the New York Zen Studies Society, one of the oldest Buddhist institutions in the West, and its 1,400-acre Dai Bosatsu retreat in the Catkills until he resigned from both earlier this week. Even though he’s headed the former since 1965 and is 77 years old, he isn’t retiring. This comment below, posted at the Tricycle Buddhist magazine blog (http://www.tricycle.com/blog/?p=2271) in reaction to the apology that accompanied his announcement, gives you an idea of what transpired.
Take it from someone who has known Eido Shimano for over thirty years, this is anything but a sincere apology. It is the same tired routine he has repeated each time he has been “caught with his robe open” for three decades.
Yes, the Achilles heel of gurus, abbots, and pastors everywhere — sleeping with their students and/or worshippers. Before we explore its prevalence in Buddhist America, let’s take a moment to celebrate “how the swans came to the lake,” to borrow the title of a history of the Zen Buddhism diaspora, if you will, to the United States by Rick Fields (Shambhala, 1992).
Since Buddhism originated in India and moved east to China and then Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia, it was probably as inevitable a migration across the Pacific as Homo erectus following the game out of Africa and populating Asia and Europe. Also since Eastern teachers were often stuck with students sent to them by their families, they were happy to find students in the West who, stoked in part by American traditions such as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Transcendentalism, sought out the teachers on their own and were eager to initiate practice.
Of course, the extent to which Buddhism needed to be Westernized became a central issue. American Buddhist centers may appear to have integrated East and West seamlessly, but many obstacles were surmounted during their formative years. Looking back, rituals, practice, and teachings may have been the least of it. Instead, due to mixed signals between the two cultures and, however much a cliché, culture shock on the part of the Easterners, many American students wound up emotionally and spiritually wounded by Buddhist teachers — Eastern and American. Besides, of course, the good names of the most highly regarded forms of Buddhism in America, Tibetan and Zen, were sullied.
Perhaps the most notorious perpetrator of spiritual abuses was Trungpa Rinpoche, who, while still a teenager, headed several large Tibetan monasteries until, like the Dalai Lama, he was forced out by the 1959 Chinese invasion. Once in the West, his gift for teaching facilitated the founding of what has become known as the Vajradhatu (his U.S. meditation centers), Shambhala Meditation Centers around the world, and the Naropa Institute (now University). But his hedonistic lifestyle and provocative “crazy wisdom” both mystified and alienated.
Trungpa died a grisly alcoholic’s death, but his successor was arguably even more dissolute. The claim to fame of Osel Tendzin, an American from New Jersey, was not only seducing students, but becoming infected with HIV and failing to tell those with whom he engaged in sexual behavior. This scenario was paralleled by two American Zen teachers: the womanizing Richard Baker, the abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, and his successor, Reb Anderson, who gained fame by appropriating the gun from a suicide victim and later wielding it in public.
As for Shimano, his serial philandering was a source of concern for decades to long-time colleague Roshi Robert Aitken, who recently died. At the Zen Site, Vladimir K. and Stuart Lachs (http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/CriticalZen/Aitken_Shimano_Letters.html) illuminated a series of letters from Aitken to Shimano and to others in the Zen community, including two of Japan’s most venerated roshis who had been his teachers. Only much later was one of them inclined to condemn Shimano. Watch how the culture clash played out in this instance. (Emphasis added.)
Aitken excuses this lack of interest by the two Japanese Zen masters to cultural differences between America and Japan, writing “it is important to understand that mental illness and character pathology are viewed tolerantly in Japan.” Aitken infers that he believes that Shimano may be suffering some form of mental illness or pathology, calling him “someone in a different dimension altogether.” Nevertheless, Shimano’s Japanese teachers “felt responsible for him, and were not prepared to disgrace him by recalling him to Japan.”
In a 1990 piece titled Encountering the Shadow in Buddhist America (http://www.katybutler.com/publications/commonboundary/index_files/commbound_shadowbuddhistusa.htm) that’s as nuanced as you’ll find on the subject, the culture clash was elucidated by Katy Butler. (If you haven’t yet, read her recent powerful New York Times magazine piece that begins with her mother speaking with her about her father: “Please help me get Jeff’s pacemaker turned off.”) Upon arriving in the United States, Eastern teachers found a nation already predisposed to hero worship and religious hucksterism. Here Ms. Butler writes about what keeps Eastern teachers in line back home until they arrive on these shores and act like a kid in a candy store.
“Pressure from the community is very important in controlling behavior in Tibetan communities,” said Dr. Barbara Aziz, an internationally known social . . . who has spent 20 years doing fieldwork among Tibetans. . . . “In Tibetan society, they expect more of the guy they put on the pedestal . . . if such a scandal [as Osel Tendzin’s] had happened in Tibet [he] might have been driven from the valley.”
Furthermore, Aziz pointed out, Tibetans may “demonstrate all kinds of reverence to a [teacher], but they won’t necessarily do what he says. I see far more discernment among my Tibetan and Nepali friends,” she concluded, “than among Westerners.” [Emphasis added.]
Alan Roland, a psychoanalyst and author of In Search of Self in India and Japan . . . . believes that Asian students approach the teacher-student relationships more subtly than Americans-who often commit rapidly and completely, or not at all. Asian students may display deference, but withhold veneration, until they have studied with a teacher for years. They seem to have a “private self” unknown to many Americans, which is capable of reserving judgement even while scrupulously following the forms. When a teacher fails, Asians may continue to defer to his superior rank but silently withdraw affection and respect.
In America, it’s often the reverse. Some Vajradhatu students could forgive Osel Tendzin as a human being, but could not treat him as a leader. . . . few Americans can show deference to someone they don’t venerate without feeling hypocritical. Faced with this cognitive dissonance, they either abandon deference and leave, or they deny inner feelings.
Ms. Butler then quotes the current Dalai Lama.
“I recommend never adopting the attitude toward one’s Spiritual teacher of seeing his or her every action as divine or noble. . . . if one has a teacher who is not qualified, who is engaging in unsuitable or wrong behavior, then it is appropriate for the student to criticize that behavior.”
Finally, a couple random observations about the issues teachers in Eastern traditions sometimes have with power and sex:
1. The sheer immaturity they’re manifesting is breathtaking. Either they’re resisting the transformation that long hours of meditation should be impressing on them or, in the belief that they’re fully realized, or enlightened, they think that they’re beyond the effects of bad karma on their future as souls.
2. It goes without saying that these problems are all but nonexistent in woman-led sanghas and zendos.
A message from Eido Shimano
September 7, 2010
I would like to acknowledge the pain and unnecessary suffering you went through in your hearts due to my faults. I have a profound feeling of remorse for my actions.
This August marked my 50th anniversary in the United States. During this half-century I have received so much from people the world over. Over time, I took your kindness for granted and arrogance grew in my heart. As a result, my sensitivity to feel the pain of others decreased. Now, as I reflect on the past, I realize how many people’s feelings and trust in me were hurt by my words and deeds. Please accept my heartfelt apology.
My mother was the person who encouraged me the most to follow Buddha’s path. Tomorrow is her memorial day, as she passed away on September 8, 1986. Hearing her voice, I have decided to observe my 50th anniversary in the United States by stepping down from my position as abbot of the Zen Studies Society on the last day of Rohatsu sesshin in 2010.
Even though I carry sadness in my heart, as a Buddhist monk, my vow to practice will not end. In order to preserve the Dharma legacy, ensure the training of future teachers, and to purify my own karma, I must march on.
Sir David Attenborough, 84, is a naturalist and broadcaster. He studied geology and zoology at Cambridge before joining the BBC in 1952 and presenting landmark series including Life On Earth (1979), The Living Planet (1984) and, recently, Life.
Richard Dawkins, 69, was educated at Oxford, later lectured there and became its first professor of the public understanding of science. An evolutionary biologist, he is the author of 10 books, including The Selfish Gene (1976), The God Delusion (2006) and The Greatest Show On Earth (2009). He is now working on a children’s book, The Magic Of Reality.
What is the one bit of science from your field that you think everyone should know?
David Attenborough: The unity of life.
Richard Dawkins: The unity of life that comes about through evolution, since we’re all descended from a single common ancestor. It’s almost too good to be true, that on one planet this extraordinary complexity of life should have come about by what is pretty much an intelligible process. And we’re the only species capable of understanding it.
Where and when do you do your best thinking?
DA: I’ve no idea. All I know is if I’m stuck with something and go to bed, I wake up with the answer.
RD: That’s a fascinating phenomenon, isn’t it?
DA: That’s if I find the answer at all.
RD: Very few people say, “I think I’ll have an hour’s thinking now.”
DA: Mathematicians do. I had an uncle who was a mathematician, and one of his students said, “How long can you think for?” He said, “I sometimes manage two or three minutes.” And this young man said, “I’ve never managed more than 90 seconds.” Of course, that’s abstract thinking, and by and large I’m not an abstract thinker.
What distracts you?
RD: The internet.
DA: I used to work to music, but I can’t now. Music is too important not to give it my full attention.
What problem do you hope scientists will have solved by the end of the century?
DA: The production of energy without any deleterious effects. The problem is then we’d be so powerful, there’d be no restraint and we’d continue wrecking everything. Solar energy would be preferable to nuclear. If you could harness it to produce desalination, you could make the Sahara bloom.
RD: I was thinking more academically: the problem of human consciousness.
Can you remember the moment you decided to become a scientist?
RD: I only became fired up in my second year of a science degree. Unlike you, I was never a boy naturalist, to my regret. It was more the intellectual, philosophical questions that interested me.
DA: I am a naturalist rather than a scientist. Simply looking at a flower or a frog has always seemed to me to be just about the most interesting thing there is. Others say human beings are pretty interesting, which they are, but as a child you’re not interested in Auntie Flo’s psychology; you’re interested in how a dragonfly larva turns into a dragonfly.
RD: Yes, it’s carrying inside it two entirely separate blueprints, two different programmes.
DA: I couldn’t believe it! I remember asking an adult, “What goes on inside a cocoon?” and he said, “The caterpillar is totally broken down into a kind of soup. And then it starts again.” And I remember saying, “That can’t be right.” As a procedure, you can’t imagine how it evolved.
What is the most common misconception about your work?
RD: I know you’re working on a programme about Cambrian and pre-Cambrian fossils, David. A lot of people might think, “These are very old animals, at the beginning of evolution; they weren’t very good at what they did.” I suspect that isn’t the case?
DA: They were just as good, but as generalists, most were ousted from the competition.
RD: So it probably is true there’s a progressive element to evolution in the short term but not in the long term – that when a lineage branches out, it gets better for about five million years but not 500 million years. You wouldn’t see progressive improvement over that kind of time scale.
DA: No, things get more and more specialised. Not necessarily better.
RD: The “camera” eyes of any modern animal would be better than what had come before.
DA: Certainly… but they don’t elaborate beyond function. When I listen to a soprano sing a Handel aria with an astonishing coloratura from that particular larynx, I say to myself, there has to be a biological reason that was useful at some stage. The larynx of a human being did not evolve without having some function. And the only function I can see is sexual attraction.
RD: Sexual selection is important and probably underrated.
DA: What I like to think is that if I think the male bird of paradise is beautiful, my appreciation of it is precisely the same as a female bird of paradise.
Which living scientist do you most admire, and why?
RD: David Attenborough.
DA: I don’t know. People say Richard Feynman had one of these extraordinary minds that could grapple with ideas of which I have no concept. And you hear all the ancillary bits – like he was a good bongo player – that make him human. So I admire this man who could not only deal with string theory but also play the bongos. But he is beyond me. I have no idea what he was talking of.
RD: There does seem to be a sense in which physics has gone beyond what human intuition can understand. We shouldn’t be too surprised about that because we’re evolved to understand things that move at a medium pace at a medium scale. We can’t cope with the very tiny scale of quantum physics or the very large scale of relativity.
DA: A physicist will tell me that this armchair is made of vibrations and that it’s not really here at all. But when Samuel Johnson was asked to prove the material existence of reality, he just went up to a big stone and kicked it. I’m with him.
RD: It’s intriguing that the chair is mostly empty space and the thing that stops you going through it is vibrations or energy fields. But it’s also fascinating that, because we’re animals that evolved to survive, what solidity is to most of us is something you can’t walk through. Also, the science of the future may be vastly different from the science of today, and you have to have the humility to admit when you don’t know. But instead of filling that vacuum with goblins or spirits, I think you should say, “Science is working on it.”
DA: Yes, there was a letter in the paper [about Stephen Hawking’s comments on the nonexistence of God] saying, “It’s absolutely clear that the function of the world is to declare the glory of God.” I thought, what does that sentence mean?!
What keeps you awake at night?
DA: Worrying about things I worked at too late in the evening.
RD: I have the same problem.
What has been the most exciting moment of your career?
DA: One would be when I first dived on a coral reef and I was able to move among a world of unrevealed complexity.
RD: Something to do with a puzzle being solved – things fall into place and you see a different way of looking at things which suddenly makes sense.
DA: We are living in the most exciting intellectual time in history. In my lifetime we have discovered such profundities, such huge principles. When I was an undergraduate, I went to the professor of geology and said, “Would you talk to us about the way that continents are drifting?” And he said, “The moment we can demonstrate that continents are moving by a millimetre, I will consider it, but until then it’s sheer moonshine, dear boy.” And within five years of me leaving Cambridge, it was confirmed, and all the problems disappeared – why Australian animals were different – that one thing changed our understanding and made sense of everything. When I made Life On Earth, we had to start with really complex organisms because the ecology of the very first oceans was not known. But you’re doing a child’s book? Tell me about it.
RD: It’s about science more generally. Each chapter begins with the myths, so in the sun chapter, for instance, we have an Aztec myth, an ancient Egyptian myth, an Aboriginal myth. It is called The Magic Of Reality and one of the problems I’m facing is the distinction between the use of the word magic, as in a magic trick, and the magic of the universe, life on Earth, which one uses in a poetic way.
DA: No, I think there’s a distinction between magic and wonder. Magic, in my view, should be restricted to things that are actually not so. Rabbits don’t really live in hats. It’s magic.
RD: OK, but what if you took a top hat and all you can see inside is some little boring brown things, and then one splits and out emerges a butterfly?
DA: Yes, that’s wonderful. But it’s not magic.
RD: OK. Well, you’re rather dissing my title…
DA: The wonder of reality? But that’s rather corny.
RD: Yes, it’s a bit like “awesome”.
Who is your favourite fictional scientist?
RD: The one I can think of is Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger, but he was a very irascible character and not a good role model.
DA: I don’t read fiction.
What is the most difficult ethical dilemma facing science today?
DA: How far do you go to preserve individual human life?
RD: That’s a good one, yes.
DA: I mean, what are we to do with the NHS? How can you put a value in pounds, shillings and pence on an individual’s life? There was a case with a bowel cancer drug – if you gave that drug, which costs several thousand pounds, it continued life for six weeks on. How can you make that decision?
This is the full speech by Richard Dawkins at the “Protest The Pope” rally, 18th September 2010. (unedited)
Richard Dawkins Protest The Pope Speech – Part 2
A Review of How Zen Became Zen: The Dispute over Enlightenment and the Formation of Chan Buddhism in Song-Dynasty China
Jack Meng-Tat Chia1
Chan (more popularly known as Zen) Buddhism is probably one of the most globally known Buddhism schools. The co-existence of both the Caodong (Jp. Sōtō) tradition and the Linji (Jp. Rinzai) tradition in the present-day masks a great deal of competition and dispute that occurred during the Song dynasty (960–1279).
This book examines the two major developments of Buddhism in the Song: the growth of Chan Buddhism and its establishment as the leading form of elite monastic Buddhism; and the sectarian conflict between the Caodong and Linji traditions over approaches to enlightenment and practice, namely between silent illu-mination (mozhao) of the Caodong and the kanhua Chan of the Linji. Mor-ten Schlütter argues that both developments were interrelated and must be examined within the context of secular political, social and economic forces in Song China. He suggests that the dynamics within Chan Budd-hism, coupled with the impact of the broader forces, shaped the Chan school, and gave it its distinct literature, doctrine, and institution that we are familiar with today.
Schlütter’swide range of primary sources include government manuals, law codes, official histories, commemorative inscriptions for monasteries, funerary inscriptions for Chan masters, essay collections, travel descriptions, private letters, and various kinds of Buddhist sources. He begins by tracing the historical development of Chan Budd-hism in the Song. Schlütter notes that sectarianism in general and the dispute between the Buddhist traditions in particular were absent dur-ing the Northern Song. Therefore, the later dispute between silent illu-mination and kanhua Chan was a significant episode in the sectarian division in Chan Buddhism. Buddhism became very attractive to the elite literati class during the Song. Despite the emergence of Neo-Confucianism, the majority of the educated elites regarded Buddhist teachings as essentially in harmony with the worldview of their social class.
During the Northern Song period, the state tried to control all as-pects of Buddhism, including the granting of name plaques and the reg-istration of monasteries. Nevertheless, government policies on the whole were beneficial to monastic Buddhism. Furthermore, there were a burgeoning number of public monasteries in the Northern Song period. Powerful elites supported the establishment of public monasteries over the hereditary ones. The system of public monasteries greatly contri-buted to the institutionalization success of the Chan schools. However, government support for Buddhist monasteries began to wane in the Southern Song. In the absence of state patronage, Chan Buddhist monas-teries had to depend on the literati and local government officials for both financial and political support.
Consequently, this led to the in-creased competition for support among groups of elite monastic Budd-hism, and the dispute between Caodong and Linji traditions in particular. The Caodong tradition, which had almost disappeared, expe-rienced an extraordinary revival in the midst of secular political, social, and economics transformations in the late eleventh century. Furong Daokai and Dahong Baoen revived the tradition by amending the trans-mission line and emphasized the importance of the last two past mas-ters, Touzi Yiqing and Dayang Jingxuan. Their disciples, Hongzhi Zheng-jue and Zhenxie Qingliao, played an important role in epitomizing the reinvented Caodong tradition. The new Caodong tradition attracted a number of literati to its silent illumination teaching.
Silent illumination was a characteristic teaching by Daokai of Caodong tradition in the twelfth century. Hongzhi and Qingliao, as well as other Caodong masters of their generation, were key propagators of the silent illumination ap-proach, which placed strong emphasis on seated meditation to achieve a mental tranquility so as to enable the inherent Buddha-nature to emerge by itself. Dahui Zonggao, the famous Chan master of the Linji tradition, was a major critic of silent illumination. Dahui was a staunch believer in kanhua Chan, which focuses intensely on the crucial phase, or “punch line” (huatou), of a gongan. He taught that focusing single-mindedly on a huatou in mediation and in performance of daily tasks would eventually lead one to enlightenment.
Dahui attacked the silent illumination Chan for being a “soteriological dead end” which can never lead one to enligh-tenment. However, as Schlütter argues, the silent illumination teaching was hardly different from the earlier meditation techniques, and in fact was very much in line with the Buddhist doctrine. He point outs that Da-hui’s kanhua Chan, on the contrary, was unorthodox in the de-emphasis of inherent enlightenment, as well as the focus on working toward a moment of breakthrough enlightenment. Although Dahui rarely men-tioned any names or specifics in his criticisms, Schlütter suggest that the attacks were directed at Hongzhi, Qingliao, and above all, the twelfth-century Caodong tradition.
This study concludes that the dispute be-tween the two Chan traditions was rather peaceful. While there was no all-out confrontation between the two camps, the conflict could have damaged the prestige of Chan Buddhism in the Southern Song, and led to its subsequent decline towards the end of the dynasty.
I have two minor criticisms of this book. First, while Schlütter of-fers a detailed discussion of Dahui’s attacks on silent illumination, and how the Caodong tradition was the target of attacks, it seems that the blows were mainly unidirectional, i.e. Linji attacked, Caodong received. It would have been better if Schlütter had been able to provide more dis-cussion on Caodong’s counter-strategies, if any. It seems rather curious that the Caodong tradition lost the fight in the end even though their si-lent illumination was more doctrinally orthodox than Linji’s kanhua Chan. Second, chapter seven, which discusses the silent illumination, would better serve its purpose if it were placed after chapter four.
It is quite difficult for readers to follow through the many criticisms of the Caodong silent illumination teachings in the two earlier chapters (chap-ters five and six) without first learning about the origins and characte-ristics of this Chan practice. Nonetheless, How Zen Became Zen is a well-researched and impressively documented book. It is indeed an important addition to the extensive literature on Chinese Buddhism and Zen stu-dies.