Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Piss up a Rope"

The quintessential country song, performed by Ween (who of course isn’t a country music group). You must give it a listen, unless of course you have a problem with satire and vulgarity… I have to throw in a good laugh every once in a while to offset the dryness and seriousness of everything else I have going on here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Inspired Theist vs. Uninspired Atheist

Consider the following from Richard Rorty’s “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature” (pg. 88):

….the problem is that one side thinks there are too many meanings around and the other side too few. In this respect the closest analogy one can find is the conflict between inspired theists and uninspired atheists. An inspired theist, let us say, is one who “just knows” that there are supernatural beings which play certain explanatory roles in accounting for natural phenomenon. (They are not to be confused with natural theologians – who offer the supernatural as the best explanation of these phenomenon.) Inspired theists have inherited their picture of the universe as divided into two great ontological realms – the supernatural and the natural - along with their language. The way they talk about things is inextricably tied up with - or at least strikes them as inextricably tied up with – references to the divine. The notion of the supernatural does not strike then as a “theory” any more than the notion of the mental strikes us as a theory. When they encounter atheists they view then as people who don’t know what’s going on, although they admit that the atheists seem able to predict and control natural phenomena very nicely indeed. (“Thank heaven” they say, “that we are not as those natural theologians are, or we too might loose touch with the real.”) The atheists view these theists as having too many words in their language and too many meanings to bother about. Enthusiastic atheists explain to inspired theists that, “all there REALLY is is…,” and the theists reply that one should realize that there are more things in heaven and earth… And so it goes. The philosophers on both sides may analyze meanings until they are blue in the face, but al such analyses are either, “directional” and “reductive” (e.g., “noncognitive” analyses of religious discourse, which are the analogue of “expressive” theories of pain reports) or else simply describe alternative “forms of life”, culminating in nothing more helpful than the announcement: “This language-game is played.” The theists’ game is essential to their self image, just as the image of man’s Glassy Essence is essential to the Western intellectual’s, but neither has a larger context available in which to evaluate this image. Where, after all, would such a context come from?

Rorty brings up some interesting points here that I think need to be dealt with, at least from the perspective of my own thinking. When I read this I thought, “CRAP! He’s talking about theists like me, ones who reduce it to a ‘Language-game’.” The main point here (and I think Rorty supports it as he see’s no use for religious language) is that the inspired theists simply have too many words in their language.

In defense of myself then, I’m going to go after a couple things; first this statement:
“An inspired theist, let us say, is one who “just knows” that there are supernatural beings which play certain explanatory roles in accounting for natural phenomenon.”

This seems like a hasty generalization from Rorty, and somewhat reduces the nature of theistic belief to the belief in fairies; it reminds me of a typical Dawkins move. After all, what does he mean by supernatural beings, and what natural phenomenon would he suggest those beings account for – relative to what he believes the theist thinks of course? Sure it’s a handy explanation that on the outside seems to make perfect sense, but it’s obvious he assumes his own shallow meanings. Perhaps though, by supernatural he simply means “transcendental” and by beings he means something like, some undefined ontology (at least that seems somewhat honest), however the rest seems like talk about miracle work and renders my “perhaps though” as nothing more then wishful thinking. Next he describes the natural theologians as a comparison, but again he says “these phenomenon” which is packed full of all sorts of meanings and he never gets into what he means by it. Most of my suspicion centers around his saying “…certain explanatory roles…” From this I could infer that he’s reducing theistic belief to the “God of the Gaps” argument; in other words the natural phenomenon which he refers to is simply that which has no scientific explanation, yet.

I see this statement as saying something along the lines of the following: “An inspired theist, let us say, is one who “just knows” that there is a Pie in the Sky who created everything.” That would have been more to the point I think….

That being what it is, my attack of that statement from Rorty is fruitless and is really meant to overshadow my inability to currently deal with this statement:
“… but all such analyses are either, “directional” and “reductive” (e.g., “noncognitive” analyses of religious discourse, which are the analogue of “expressive” theories of pain reports) or else simply describe alternative “forms of life”, culminating in nothing more helpful than the announcement: “This language-game is played.”

My current mantra is most certainly that “A certain language-game is being played,” however, it’s not without validity or purpose. I think the key is here, what are those “alternative forms of life”, and do the too many words of religious language lead to an alternative form of life that would promote a better world for our great-great-great-great-grand children? One might suggest, “Why do we need the antiquated words of Christ and the belief in the divine in order to understand what those things are?” I would simply answer, “well, we don’t.” As someone who follows Buddhism, I may well agree that Christianity along with Buddhism has far too many words, however these languages do not stand as descriptions of an underlying reality per se’, but serve as a path to a particular state of mind which leads to the “alternative form of life”. Although, we can do without the word “alternative” in that statement and simply say something like, “Good”.

None of this rhetoric on my part will really do though, so I’d like to call attention to the post I put up earlier from Rorty and point out a few things.

Rorty said in this post:
“The idea that the aim of inquiry is correspondence to reality, or seeing the face of God, or substituting facts for interpretation is one that we just can’t make any use of.”
“The reaction against this Greek/Christian pursuit of blessedness through union with a natural order is to say, there isn’t any natural order, but there is a possibility of a better life for our great-great-great grandchildren. That’s enough to give you all the meaning and inspiration that you could use. "

This statement is true enough, but that assumes that the goal of theism (at least in modern society) is to “see the face of God”, or to “substitute facts for interpretation”. Theism, at least from my perspective, does not have within it the goal of escaping the world and seeing God, it does not substitute facts for interpretation in any way – unless of course we’re talking to a biblical literalist, but I’m defending myself here, not them. Again, the goal of theism is along the lines of a certain disposition to live, to behave, to interact, to come into contact with ones self thereby paving the way to come into contact with others. (Now don’t take me here as reducing theism to behaviorism, as I’m not talking necessarily about physical dispositions). No matter the medium you choose, the religion or governmental system, there is always a set of normative behaviors one should abide by; the question I would pose is, “is one going to follow blindly those normative laws, or is one going to come to an understanding of them?” What philosophy or system of law proliferates understanding? That’s a bit like asking what military spreads peace?

The bottom line is that it’s simply a mistake to assume that the theist is in the pursuit of the divine outside of life, or that he’s trying to get in touch with God, so on and so forth. I think it would be more accurate to suggest that one is trying to bring the divine into himself, whether that divine is the Buddha nature, or the Christ nature (I see no difference between the two). Religious language, where-as it is a form of creating understanding, is a personal journey that one takes; when he understands that journey, those too many words of religious language become no longer necessary. One must understand that (once again) religion is not a description of anything, any more then a road is a description of the ground, it is merely something we follow. Further more, (with regard to myself) these words are not something that I simply believe as they are, as there is nothing to believe in; when one has love, there is no belief in that love, you are merely consumed with it, and love is what we call it. Belief merely exists where an understanding isn’t self evident, so to follow Biblical words is to follow a belief in a dogma and this often takes on the appearance of one having too many words in his vocabulary. The key then, is to do exactly as the inspired atheist would suggest, “get rid of those too many words”, not by discarding them, but by following them to the end.

Let me try an example:
Let’s suppose that language, or rather a particular word in itself, represent a road somewhere. So the sentence, “I’m hungry”, represents two roads (“I’M” and “HUNGRY”), both of which a listener has to travel in order to gain an understanding of what you’re saying, or better put, in order to reach the destination of understanding. Every time one is reading from a page or listening to speech, one is taking a journey which is paved by all the individual roads made up by all the individual words. By itself, “I’m”, is a lone road that doesn’t necessarily lead to anywhere except perhaps the end of the block, which of course has many branching roads that lead to many other possible destinations; so you’re left stranded. Mate that word with hungry and suddenly you’ve arrived somewhere familiar.

To understand the roads of everyday speech, you must see them as traveling through yourself. In other words, when someone says “I’m hungry”, you immediately recognize these roads as existing in you, and it is through this understanding that you realize not just that this person has the same roads, but that he’s directing you towards a destination and realization of his disposition.

The issue at hand is that the uninspired atheist likes to maintain that the theist has too many roads. However this assumes one of two things, either that; A.) The roads lead to similar destinations and thus can be discarded with more direct roads / routes. Or B.) The roads simply don’t lead anywhere.
Now again, in Rorty’s case he’s simply saying (I’m going to put words in his mouth here) “Look, there is a possibility for a better life right here and right now, there is no need to talk about this relative to a belief in some divine power.” And of course this assumes “A”. Rorty’s language, or the path his language takes, is of course a pragmatic one and always refers to humanity and the expansion of the liberal bourgeoisie; in other words it’s always directed outwards, the road is always leaving you without any return.

Religious language, where-as it certainly takes into account the betterment of society, is not directed in such ways, it doesn’t say we’re going to better society by paving roads out to it and building fancy houses on it. It betters society by paving roads which all lead back to the self; which gets me to assumption “B”, “the roads simply don’t lead anywhere”. Let me give an example, in contemporary society we may say that it is not the proper behavior to commit adultery, that you shouldn’t cheat with another man’s wife – and this of course is a statement whose roads point outside the self. In other words the reasons for not behaving in a certain way are not reasons which exist in you, but in society, as of course we ruin people’s lives, break up marriages and families, so on and so forth. Compare this to Matthew 5:27-30:
27"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'[e] 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Notice that this sentiment has nothing at all to say about the woman or society, it points directly to the self, it is a language which doesn’t speak to humanity, is not some meaningless babble that points to the divine, but it points directly at YOU. All the roads of religious language (where-as they may lead out) always turn back in. The uninspired atheist, who says that the inspired theist has too many words, is simply making the mistake of not following the road to its’ destination, but rather leaving it out in objective space somewhere and thus mistaking it for talk about the world.

An after thought:
Religious language always points back to the self because the self is the source of the divine light. As a result the object of religious discourse, if it can be said that there is one, is always within the individual. The source of the divine is never in the world itself as what’s in the world can never be revealed through itself, but only through ones self. In this way when the uninspired atheist talks about the world, he talks about it in a way that seems to suggest that things in themselves poses a nature all their own, and that this nature is somehow uninspired by our own nature. However, there can never be an understanding of the world without first having an understanding of self as it is through the self that the world is revealed. As it was said, “I and the Father are one.”

Friday, November 28, 2008

What I Mean by God

Consider the following quote from Martin Heidegger's "Being and Time":

"Every question is a seeking. Every seeking takes it's directions beforehand from what is sought. Questioning is a knowing search for beings in their thatness and whatness. The knowing search can become an "investigation", as the revealing determination of what the question aims at. As questioning about.....questioning has what it asks about. All asking in some way an inquiring of...Besides what is asked, what is interrogated also belongs to questioning. What is questioned is to be defined and conceptualized in the investigating, that is, the specifically theoretical, question. As what is really intended, what is to be ascertained lies in what is questioned; here questioning arrives at it's goal. As an attitude adopted by a being, the questioner, questioning has it's own character of being. Questioning can come about as "just asking around" or as an explicitly formulated question. What is peculiar to the latter is the fact that questioning first becomes lucid in advance with regard to all the above named constituitive characteristics of the question."

I often spend a considerable amount of time contemplating a working definition for what I mean by God and this clip from Heidegger often comes to mind when I make that attempt. As a result I’m always stopped dead in my tracks; would I try to end the inquiry?

Questioning has a certain eternal character to it, and likewise so does God. Where there are questions, there are answers; it seems the answers to those questions always make the questions absurd, yet questions remain. God, in this sense, is THE eternal question, one which is pondered generation after generation as not simply a seeking after [T]ruth, but a seeking after the [G]ood, after [V]irtue, after [J]ustice. This pursuit and eternal questioning seems to me to be as good a definition of God as any, and I’m happy to keep it that way for now.

I can’t help but see this as applying (Matthew Chapter 7):
7 Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. 8 For every one that asketh, receiveth: and he that seeketh, findeth: and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened. 9 Or what man is there among you, of whom if his son shall ask bread, will he reach him a stone? 10 Or if he shall ask him a fish, will he reach him a serpent? 11 If you then being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more will your Father who is in heaven, give good things to them that ask him?

Are we asking the right questions? Are we asking questions at all? When we choose to live our lives within the limits of reason, are we not simply putting a limit to our questions? If an answer to a question is not rational, does it make the question absurd? How can a question really be absurd?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Either Way"

What I mean by "Dogma"

This is a response to another discussion I’m in, so it’s going to be me regurgitating many thoughts and ideas I’ve already laid down here, but in another way.

A couple things first:
- It’s always been my aim to expose the dogmatic nature of reason to show that the same level of faith people have towards religious language, people likewise have regarding reason.

The following statement was made to me regarding the above point, as if it's what I'm trying to suggest: (Which of course I’m not):
“In other words, the fact that you're writing about something means you've presupposed the validity of the definitions of the words you're using. And this is just as dogmatic as religious beliefs are.”
‘Of course, it's complete twaddle. Belief in the validity of the words in a dictionary presupposes only that empirical definitions are required in order to communicate. It certainly doesn't require faith in the unseen...”

The first task is; what is Dogma? Or in the very least, what do I mean by it?
Let me first quote two Buddhist sayings, as this will help set the stage:
- “You can use your finger to point at the moon, but don’t mistake the finger for the moon.”
- "The fish trap exists because of the fish; once you've gotten the fish you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit; once you've gotten the rabbit you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning; once you have the meaning you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can have a few words with him?"

What is Dogma:
Let me address directly the comment which was made above (in GREEN) by saying the following: There is no presupposing of the validity of definitions, but a presupposing that those definitions mirror a given phenomenon to an extent that they are somehow intertwined and/or inseparable from it; this is often looked at in an atemporal way, and as such becomes dogmatic…..
Dogma arises (I’ll argue) due to an ontological divide which exists between language and it’s referent, but where one refuses to recognize this divide; in other words, one mistakes the finger for the moon. I constantly use the example of gravity and ask the question, “Did gravity exist prior to Newton?” My answer is always a strict no; however the rational atheist always responds, “Of course it did.” This stance is an obvious dogmatic one, and arises because one is reluctant to separate the word gravity, and its underlying principles, from the phenomenon we attribute to it.

It must be seen that prior to Newton, the word gravity and it’s underlying principles did not exist, they were not in anybodies mind because there was no such thing yet; there simply wasn’t such a language. The rational atheist takes me as saying that apples didn’t fall from trees, which is hardly the case. What I’m suggesting is; no doubt apples did fall from trees, but it wasn’t because of gravity. Taking the dogmatic stance that it was, is not seeing the ontological gap between the word and the referent, it’s looking at the two as if they were somehow inseparable. Surely hundreds of years from now new science will evolve that not only makes Newtonian physics completely obsolete, but also makes it look quite silly at the same time – in much the same way we see the ancients description of the universe as silly. So what does that mean? Does it mean we were wrong? Of course it doesn’t, a pragmatic stance would see that gravity and its’ underlying principles were merely a mode of communicating about a particular phenomenon such that we could not only communicate about and understand the world, but more importantly understand ourselves. If we look at the past 2000 years of humanity we can see that (relative to what science says) the universe hasn’t changed all that much, however the way we talk about it has changed drastically and we’re constantly updating old forms of thought with new ones. So what’s happening here? Is the universe changing? Or is it simply that we’re talking about it in different ways?

Gravity, again, along with the underlying mathematics is nothing more then language, it is not a mirror to nature; the disembodied words of Newton were not just floating around in empty space since the beginning of time. As well, we cannot make the claim that it’s consistent with the way the universe operates in and of itself, because we can never know this; at best we can say that it’s consistent with a mode of thinking that we call rational. It’s consistent with an underlying mathematic, and we attribute that language of mathematic to a given referent and call it gravity, BUT THEY ARE NOT ONE IN THE SAME.

So, the bottom line:
One must learn to separate what he says from what it refers to. One must understand (refer to the second Buddhist quote above) that the words themselves are not the phenomenon itself, but a description of our experience which adds a certain meaning to it; once we have this, Newton can be discarded.

The next question that will be asked of me is, “So what, that doesn’t mean that God exists!” and I’ll respond with, “Well, not any more then gravity.” Then someone will further say that they can prove gravity by taking me to a bridge and dropping a rock and proclaim, “Look, gravity!” As if what I’m witness to at that moment is Newtonian physics, what could be more self evident? (I’m witness to words, hooray!) I don’t deny the validity of physics in talking about fallings rocks, but I also don’t deny the validity of religion in talking about the human spirit. Religion, whether Christianity or Buddhism, is a language and one should not mistake it for talking about stone or flash or old men in white robes; to understand it, one must not look to differentiate its words from an underlying reality, to connect it somehow by means of making it specific. One must dissolve the dogma into an experience of life that is not hindered by definitions. When one learns to separate words from referents, I truly believe (almost dogmatically so ; ) ) that a real experience of the divine is possible.

Monday, November 24, 2008

On "Being Wrong"

I’ve run into a bit of a wall with my thoughts on religious language, they’ve become scattered and tangential. I feel that part of the problem is I have so many concepts which need shoring up I’m not even certain where to begin cleaning the beach; and then something came to mind.

One topic that has always left me in a funk is the nature of debate, more importantly, someone being wrong. The more I engage in debates on various blogs, the more I see people simply squatting, taking sides on a given issue and not budging; myself included. So I’ve changed my attitude a bit as this taking of sides seems to miss the point of why a handful of people came together in the first place.

For Example:I tend to frequent blogs that debate Atheism vs. Theism, Intelligent Design vs. Evolution. Regarding the debates on these blogs I’m baffled by a couple things; in the event that the blog owner happens to be a theist, why is the blog full of atheist individuals trying to stir up trouble and all around being contentious? If you don’t agree with the Theist, why trouble yourself with the debate? I tend to assume, somewhat solipsitically, that either the atheist just wants to satisfy his ego by using what he would consider his superior powers of logic, or perhaps he really does have an interest in religion that he is unwilling to admit to. I think about it this way, when it comes to friends and coworkers, we tend to gravitate towards people who we share common ideals and/or, people who we find we can make connections with. Or in a more general sense, in face to face life people tend to steer towards making a connection before making a divide, that is, people have a natural desire to be understood by others and this cannot be achieved by being contentious with everyone you first meet. We humans don’t meet people on the street and immediately start arguing with them, we engage in small talk about the weather, we talk sports and news, we stick to themes where we know immediately there’s a commonality. Yet go to a Theistic blog and at any moment some stranger jumps in and starts calling people idiots; it troubles me….

What I’d like to talk about here are two things; what does it mean to be wrong? And secondly, Davidson’s Principle of Charity.
First, what is the principle of charity?
The principle of charity asks; what are the conditions under which on conversation can take place or can actually happen? What Davidson would suggest, is that in order to interpret a person we must assume up front that what they say, the beliefs they convey, are mostly true about the world, and furthermore they have mostly the same beliefs about the world as you do. This works for the following reason; the more falsehoods and/or error you attribute to someone in conversation, the less evidence you have that your interpretation is a correct one. To simply discard someone’s beliefs or thoughts entirely, drains your case that you’re interpreting this person at all, or that this person even has beliefs.

In other words, in the case of a debate between theist and atheist; if the atheist simply makes the claim that the theist is entirely wrong about the world, about God, so on, he now has no idea whether or not he’s even interpreted this person at all. He may as well be talking to some evil blog demon who’s simply spiting out nonsense; and yet he sticks around for more. I find it vary infrequent that the atheist (or the theist for that matter) tries to reach out and find some common ground on which to stand.

On being wrong:
Let me sidestep for a moment and talk about being wrong, then I’ll come back to the principle of charity. Being wrong, I tend to believe, is nothing more than falling into contextual error; in other words it’s not so much that we’re deceived about sensory input as much as we speak about that sensory input in a way that’s contradictory to our cultural language game. For example, let’s suppose you put 3 rocks in the hand of some individual and ask the question, “How many rocks are you holding?” and they respond, “5 rocks.” Now, of course, you’re going to immediately interpret them as being incorrect, and rightly so in one sense as they’re holding only 3 rocks.

Hold the show though; certainly we don’t want to say that this persons experience has deceived them do we? In other words I think we’d all agree that this person is in the very least experiencing (seeing, feeling) what we would generally consider a quantity of 3 rocks. However what they report to you is not consistent with your expectations; which of course are based on a language game that you’ve learned to play. So in other words, the person is wrong relative to the way they conveyed they’re experience linguistically. However the way we speak to each other immediately assumes (on the surface) that we’re attributing to them false beliefs about the world, when (unless they’re insane or hallucinating) how could this ever be so?

Is this person an idiot then? Perhaps they simply don’t understand numbers, or perhaps the way they think about numbers is different then yours? We’ll never understand this by simply calling the person wrong and correcting them, we’ll only understand by asking them what they mean by 5, or if they even understood the question at all. If we go with the principle of charity and assume they are correct, our natural next move will be to make specific inquiries about the meaning of the answer “5 rocks”. We should assume that their experience is genuine, that they see the same thing we see; in this sense we’ll find that the confusion over rightness and wrongness was not about the world at large, but about the way we talk about the world at large.

The next step is, how do we make up the difference between the atheist’s and theist’s language game? There is a definite gorge existing between the two that seem unbridgeable, so much so that we’re unable to have intelligent conversation back and forth, which in turn leads to, “You’re an idiot”, “No you’re an idiot” so on and so on. In most cases (at least in the blogs I roll) the theist understands quite well the logic which is at play, and the losses for logical explanations they’re faced with. However this in no way diminishes they’re sense of a transcendental identity, feeling or faith in a God, so on. How then do you interpret that without falling into a situation where you have drained your case that a person even believes in anything at all? The atheist will say that the burden of proof is on the theist to provide “rational” evidence to support they’re positions, however A.) This evidence is really non-existent for reasons I won’t get into here, and B.) When has rationality ever comprehended the emotions?

Only by taking a personal leap of faith will the atheist ever begin to understand the theist. In Buddhism it is well understood that “The Way” is a personal experience, not something that can be spoken of. After all, when has a word or phrase (spoken rationally) ever captured your spirit? There as well, we can understand each other quite well face to face, because we can see in the eyes what the person is feeling, but words on a computer screen are always somewhat confusing and lacking of any emotion; what more evidence does one need that words are ultimately meaningless?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

3rd Planet

On Selfishness (some further ranting)

Selfishness is one of those long standing words which I’ve always had a bit of a problem with. We all know how to use it well enough in context, but it’s exactly the context of it that makes its use, well, sort of selfish.

Choice, a general view:
In our daily life we have choices, and I’d like to here say (for the sake of rhetorical power) that in almost every circumstance there are two types of choices we can make. There is the NORMATIVE choice, and there is the SELFISH choice.
Normative choices are those that fit the category of “shoulds”. In other words the things we should do based on our cultural value system; we SHOULD follow the speed limit, we SHOULD stop at stop signs, we SHOULD not drive while intoxicated, we SHOULD meet our previously agreed to obligations, we SHOULD donate to United Way, we SHOULD not steal from our neighbors, we SHOULD help an old lady across the street.
Selfish choices then, are those that simply avoid or do not take into account the normative alternative. In other words we simply don’t take into account how our actions are going to affect our cultural value system; that is, we act according to our own values, our own wants and needs. We break the speed limit, we break our plans, we’re stingy with our money, we push over old ladies to get out of a fire safely, we “take our ball and go home.”

The problem of Object/Subject:
There’s an obvious problem here though, in the way we view normative / selfish choices, and that is we do so objectively. We all know what the normative choices are and if we see someone not making it, they are immediately selfish, but we’re completely neglecting what’s going on inside someone’s head when they make that choice. We neglect the potential fact that, when a given individual makes the normative choice to donate money to the church, he’s doing it not because it’s normative, but because it makes him feel good to know he’s helping people.
So what we have is simple, the objective judgment of the act, and the neglect of the subjective motive.

Normative Selfishness and Motive (the existential problem):
Again, when people make the normative choice, we’re neglecting the motive for that choice; why are they doing it? In an objective sense, we’d call the man who donates his money selfless, however, perhaps he’s servicing an inner desire to help people, or perhaps he servicing an inner need to do the normative and be seen in a certain light; the bottom line is, the action completed is in the service of an individual’s emotional state. One either wants to feel good by doing good, or feel good by being accepted, or feel good by taking the normative rout, or perhaps it’s the alleviation of an underlying anxiety of not doing it. No matter the reason, the normative act always has a deeply personal motive; regardless of the objective benefit or seemingly normative nature of the act, the person is servicing themselves and therefore has a sort of Normative Selfishness.

So what:
Ok, sure, so what? I suppose I think about it this way, one man gives his money and time and feels good about doing it, another refrains from giving his money and time because he doesn’t. Perhaps the one man is just plain stingy, but certainly it goes deeper then that. The psychological dispositions of the giving man and the stingy man, having both given money, are completely different. The one man feels good, the other perhaps has a growing anxiety inside over just having lost 10% of his earnings that month. So should we blame them for feeling the way they do? If someone doesn’t feel good about doing a certain thing, should it be our place to make them, or label them? Isn’t THAT a bit selfish? We use the negatively connotated word selfish to point to peoples actions, while at the same time being completely oblivious to the way the person feels, or what they’re motives are. How completely selfish is that? Essentially what we’re saying to people is, your actions should be consistent with the benefit of me and/or people at large no matter how you feel about it; how selfish is that? We could say, as an example, that homosexuals are selfish people because they’re actions are not consistent with normative choices; but are we not in this case failing to consider that they have a need for love and affection, and that the love and affection they desire is not possible from a member of the opposite sex? How selfish is that? Don’t we all have the right to love?

I say that we are all equally selfish, as, so far as I can tell, there is no such thing as altruism. We simply like those who benefit us, and don’t like those who don’t; we judge people objectively, in almost a utilitarian way. And certainly there are people whose happiness is dangerously wrapped up in activities that are grossly against the normative choice; child molestation for example, we of course need to draw the line somewhere. The bottom line is simply that, some people feel good with the normative choice, and some people don’t; I’m not convinced we have any more control over it then a homosexual has over his sexual preference. Perhaps the big issue here is that we all have certain emotional rights, and sometimes those emotional strivings butt up against what’s normative; how we get around that I don’t know, but certainly casting judgment isn’t the key. Is it?

NOTE: I've always liked the following anecdote, and it sort of fits the occasion; some people step to the open door of a plane, prone to jump and dopamine is released from the brain, an intense rush is upon them. On the other hand a completely different person in the same position gets a release of serotonin from the brain, and he’s scared out of his mind. Should we judge / label either of these two individuals in a negative way?


We should love people for who they are, and not for how they may or may not benefit us. Perhaps in showing a “selfish” person love, they’ll learn to reciprocate? Perhaps people wouldn’t be so stingy if they knew that people in general were not so stingy? But we are.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Personality Test

I found this mildly amusing

I guess I'm an INTJ, which means the following: (my wife read this and gave a laugh suggesting I was caught unwittingly in the act of being me. What can I say, it made a good case.)

As an INTJ, your primary mode of living is focused internally, where you take things in primarily via your intuition. Your secondary mode is external, where you deal with things rationally and logically.

INTJs live in the world of ideas and strategic planning. They value intelligence, knowledge, and competence, and typically have high standards in these regards, which they continuously strive to fulfill. To a somewhat lesser extent, they have similar expectations of others.

With Introverted Intuition dominating their personality, INTJs focus their energy on observing the world, and generating ideas and possibilities. Their mind constantly gathers information and makes associations about it. They are tremendously insightful and usually are very quick to understand new ideas. However, their primary interest is not understanding a concept, but rather applying that concept in a useful way. Unlike the INTP, they do not follow an idea as far as they possibly can, seeking only to understand it fully. INTJs are driven to come to conclusions about ideas. Their need for closure and organization usually requires that they take some action.

INTJ's tremendous value and need for systems and organization, combined with their natural insightfulness, makes them excellent scientists. An INTJ scientist gives a gift to society by putting their ideas into a useful form for others to follow. It is not easy for the INTJ to express their internal images, insights, and abstractions. The internal form of the INTJ's thoughts and concepts is highly individualized, and is not readily translatable into a form that others will understand. However, the INTJ is driven to translate their ideas into a plan or system that is usually readily explainable, rather than to do a direct translation of their thoughts. They usually don't see the value of a direct transaction, and will also have difficulty expressing their ideas, which are non-linear. However, their extreme respect of knowledge and intelligence will motivate them to explain themselves to another person who they feel is deserving of the effort.

INTJs are natural leaders, although they usually choose to remain in the background until they see a real need to take over the lead. When they are in leadership roles, they are quite effective, because they are able to objectively see the reality of a situation, and are adaptable enough to change things which aren't working well. They are the supreme strategists - always scanning available ideas and concepts and weighing them against their current strategy, to plan for every conceivable contingency.

INTJs spend a lot of time inside their own minds, and may have little interest in the other people's thoughts or feelings. Unless their Feeling side is developed, they may have problems giving other people the level of intimacy that is needed. Unless their Sensing side is developed, they may have a tendency to ignore details which are necessary for implementing their ideas.
The INTJ's interest in dealing with the world is to make decisions, express judgments, and put everything that they encounter into an understandable and rational system. Consequently, they are quick to express judgments. Often they have very evolved intuitions, and are convinced that they are right about things. Unless they complement their intuitive understanding with a well-developed ability to express their insights, they may find themselves frequently misunderstood. In these cases, INTJs tend to blame misunderstandings on the limitations of the other party, rather than on their own difficulty in expressing themselves. This tendency may cause the INTJ to dismiss others input too quickly, and to become generally arrogant and elitist.

INTJs are ambitious, self-confident, deliberate, long-range thinkers. Many INTJs end up in engineering or scientific pursuits, although some find enough challenge within the business world in areas which involve organizing and strategic planning. They dislike messiness and inefficiency, and anything that is muddled or unclear. They value clarity and efficiency, and will put enormous amounts of energy and time into consolidating their insights into structured patterns.
Other people may have a difficult time understanding an INTJ. They may see them as aloof and reserved. Indeed, the INTJ is not overly demonstrative of their affections, and is likely to not give as much praise or positive support as others may need or desire. That doesn't mean that he or she doesn't truly have affection or regard for others, they simply do not typically feel the need to express it. Others may falsely perceive the INTJ as being rigid and set in their ways. Nothing could be further from the truth, because the INTJ is committed to always finding the objective best strategy to implement their ideas. The INTJ is usually quite open to hearing an alternative way of doing something.

When under a great deal of stress, the INTJ may become obsessed with mindless repetitive, Sensate activities, such as over-drinking. They may also tend to become absorbed with minutia and details that they would not normally consider important to their overall goal.

INTJs need to remember to express themselves sufficiently, so as to avoid difficulties with people misunderstandings. In the absence of properly developing their communication abilities, they may become abrupt and short with people, and isolationists.

INTJs have a tremendous amount of ability to accomplish great things. They have insight into the Big Picture, and are driven to synthesize their concepts into solid plans of action. Their reasoning skills gives them the means to accomplish that. INTJs are most always highly competent people, and will not have a problem meeting their career or education goals. They have the capability to make great strides in these arenas. On a personal level, the INTJ who practices tolerances and puts effort into effectively communicating their insights to others has everything in his or her power to lead a rich and rewarding life.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Artist Unknown

If you want to be an artist and you're not already one, chances are it’s never going to happen. Let’s suppose you want to learn how to draw a face, so you take an art class at the rec. center; sooner or later you’ll get something like the picture below.
You’ll learn that you have to draw a circle, then some lines across the circle for proportion and to locate the eyes, nose, ears, forehead and chin, so on and so on and so on. But it can hardly be the case that the ancients drew circles and lines any more then great artists today do. My brother, for example, is a wonderful artist and I’ve never seen this technique being used in his drawings. There as well, speaking for myself, there’s no amount of training, circle drawing, so on, that will render my hand with the talent of drawing a face.

So, I wonder, where did it come from, this process? Do me the pleasure of watching the following video, you’ll find that although childish, it nicely illustrates my point. It’s 10 mins…

I like to imagine that at some point in history there was some stuffy no good Squidward who was all tangled up in jealousy and envy that he went to the artist and said, “Show your process!” of course the artist likely didn’t know what the heck he was talking about and simply drew his face as he usually did. However, through a painstaking process of trial and error, Squidward finally made scientific (or so he thought) what was once a masterpiece drawn from the hand of an artist who simply went on feel. Now we can all draw faces, can’t we? Or at least we know how, don’t we?

Of course, this isn’t to take away from the fact that practice makes perfect, you can’t simply pick up a guitar, sit down at a piano or pick up a pencil and have at it. But surely there is something special about individuals who are “naturals” at these sorts of things.

Anyway, without going to deep into the detail (as I imagine one gets the jist) my real point lies elsewhere. The “artistic process” as learned at the rec. center is nothing more than a dogma, or so I'll suggest. As seen in the video, once the dogma got in the way of Spongebob’s natural ability and he began thinking in terms of a process, a “right way” of doing things, he was unable to perform. Consider that most of the great discoveries made by mankind, whether it be in philosophy, physics, so on, were made by young individuals in they’re 20’s. Einstein is a perfect example, as he became older his creativity was stifled; and of course there are countless others.

Consider these three quotes from Einstein:
- "The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education."
- "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school."
- "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18.”

We are taught from a young age how to use reason, and how to see the world rationally. Somewhere in this process, it seems, we loose the ability to believe, we loose the ability to see and to imagine. Truth beyond words, beyond the dogma, becomes no truth at all.

Perhaps, (on the other hand) one’s ability to see the truth existing beyond words is no different then one’s ability to draw a face. Perhaps some just don’t get it, can’t get it? Without a process of understanding, there is no truth in the matter for some? If something isn’t scientific, rational, logical, then for some it simply doesn’t exist. I consider this a tragedy in some way, but I suppose it’s no less a tragedy then my inability to “get” the atheist, or paint a picture for myself.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Schrodinger's Cat

In the world of quantum mechanics, the laws of physics that are familiar from the everyday world no longer work. Instead, events are governed by probabilities. A radioactive atom, for example, might decay, emitting an electron, or it might not. It is possible to set up an experiment in such a way that there is a precise fifty-fifty chance that one of the atoms in a lump of radioactive material will decay in a certain time and that a detector will register the decay if it does happen. Schrödinger, as upset as Einstein about the implications of quantum theory, tried to show the absurdity of these implications by imagining such an experiment set up in a closed room, or box, which also contains a live cat and a phial of poison, so arranged that if the radioactive decay does occur then the poison container is broken and the cat dies. In the everyday world, there is a fifty-fifty chance that the cat will be killed, and without looking inside the box we can say, quite happily, that the cat inside is either dead or alive. But now we encounter the strangeness of the quantum world. According to the theory, neither of the two possibilities open to the radioactive material, and therefore to the cat, has any reality unless it is observed. The atomic decay has neither happened nor not happened, the cat has neither been killed nor not killed, until we look inside the box. Theorists who accept the pure version of quantum mechanics say that the cat exists in some indeterminate state, neither dead nor alive, until an observer looks into the box to see how things are getting on. Nothing is real unless it is observed.

The Pursuit of Peace of Mind

I was fishing with a good friend the other day, babbling on about this or that philosophical idea. After I let up for a moment, allowing a short pause for a rebuttal, my friend (Bill) says, “you know, your just doing this to make life more interesting.” In other words, what I’m saying is ultimately meaningless, I’m just bored and should give it up. My response was swift, “Well Du-u-h!” and then continued with, “You know, the only reason you go fishing is to make life more interesting.”

With that, the conversation was over, at least with regard to philosophy. So I simply cracked open another beer, swallowed my thoughts, and we entered into a shallow male discourse about the various fuckable women we both work with. How tragic, how bittersweet, yet how humorous…..

So I’d like to make something clear with regard to my disposition/view on philosophy. Sure enough, it seems to me, there are plenty of people out there who view philosophy and religion as a frantic pursuit of [T]ruth. Eventually, they suppose, they’re going to fall upon the language that puts the whole of being into perspective, and the pursuit can stop. Of course this never happens; the conversation that is the whole of philosophy and religion throughout the ages continues just a confusedly today as it did 2000 years ago. People cling to the various dogmas, whether it is Religious, Positivistic, Pragmatic, Humanistic, so on, as if they’ve found the ultimate source of all things – that which all things flow from.

My take, on the other hand, is quite different. Suppose one’s thing is restoring an old car. Suppose that, in the middle of one’s restoration project I stroll into the garage where one is working and say something like, “why are you doing this, it’s completely meaningless?” I imagine that individual would look at me quite peculiarly, wondering what the heck I was talking about, what’s my point. He might say to me, “So what, I enjoy it, now bug off.” He has no problem with the fact that it’s ultimately meaningless, and anyway, meaning has nothing to do with the reason he’s doing it in the first place – he just enjoys it.

So I think to myself, what is it that exists between a man and his philosophy that doesn’t exists between a man and his restoration project? Why do we confuse the one as having meaning and the other as just having Quality, as just being something we like? Certainly philosophy isn’t any more or less an obsessive venture then any other hobby, and both can become the constant obsession of our lives and consume all our waking thoughts. Yet still there seems to be a difference (perhpas meaning)? There too, you don’t tend to see hobbyists of varying ilks arguing with each other over which hobby is best at achieving such and such a pleasure, peace of mind, enjoyment, meaning, whathaveyou. We simply all know that certain people like certain things, have certain hobbies, so on, and we accept that. In other words, we’re all content with the fact that there isn’t one ultimate hobby that will inspire the intellect and the senses in the same way with everybody. We’re different, period.

For me, philosophy is simply that old car sitting in my garage. The old car is nothing more then the current dogma/paradigm which I live my life by; it’s rusty, gets horrible gas mileage, burns and leaks oil, has a hole in the muffler, a broken radio, rips and tears in the seats, broken door handles and windows, a dirty air filter, old plugs, so on and so on. What makes up that dogma (or so I’ll say for this analogy) are the words I utter to describe it. Philosophy then, (and religion) in the form of the books that fill my shelves, are nothing more then the various new tools and parts I’ve purchased to polish up and fix this old car to make it feel new and exiting. Every new question I have is analogous to a part of the car that isn’t working, sometimes I manage to patch up the question with a shinny new part (answer), and then find new problems/questions lying underneath it, then, I consult the vehicle manual.

Side thought:
One who’s into such a hobby may never complete the task of restoration to ones satisfaction. He may even scrap the entire project and start over from scratch. I did this years ago when I scrapped Christianity; of course I’ve since come back to it, but it doesn’t look anything like it used, it’s hardly recognizable to most mainstream Christians.

I suppose one could rightly ask, “How do you know anything is broken or needs fixing?” And the honest answer is, I don’t. One never knows there’s anything wrong unless he starts poking around in the matter. On the other hand, there is nothing really “wrong” with a broken down old car; what’s ultimately wrong with the car doesn’t exist in the car itself, but in one’s disposition towards the car. We see it and either leave it as it is by paying it no mind, or it creates a poor quality situation that effects your disposition to such a degree you take meaningless action - if only to alleviate your poor quality situation. So wrong is this case is not a matter of universals, it’s just a reflection of one’s own peace of mind.

The point is this:
My good friend Bill is a proud gun owner and loves to go to the range. I’ve often used the analogy with him, “You know that feeling you get when you’re at the range lining up a shot, your breathing becomes shallow, your thoughts are reigned in, you squeeze the trigger and the bullet finds its mark? That’s the same felling I get when another piece of kant’s Critique becomes clear to my mind.” It’s not about meaning, there isn’t any meaning, its about the pursuit. Both the philosopher and the hobbyist share that same drive, the difference is, the prior thinks it means something and the latter knows he is just doing what he likes, establishing a peace of mind.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Nature and Christianity

Nature with regard to Christianity:
Thought on Sam's post HERE:

The first thing is that nature is contrasted with God; the natural stands on the one hand against the divine. Nature is something working against what is Godly, and in this sense often means “creation” or “the earth”. God created the world, but strangely the world goes against him, and God is found fighting against his own creation.

The adjective “natural”, while in one sense standing in contrast to the divine, in another sense accords with it. When “naturalness” is used in contrast to artificiality it acquires something of the divine.

When we contrast nature with man, we emphasize the physical, material aspect of Nature rather then it’s moral or spiritual aspect, which is pre-eminently involved when we contrast it with God. Nature has thus two aspects as we humans view it. Inasmuch as it is “natural”, it is Godly; but when it is material it functions against human spirituality or godliness, whatever that may mean. As long as nature is regarded as the material world, as our senses perceive it, it is something we want to conquer. Nature here faces us a kind of power, and wherever there is a notion of power it is connected with that of conquest. For man, therefore, Nature is to be conquered and made use of for his own material welfare and comfort. Nature affords him a variety of opportunities to develop his powers, but at the same time there is always on the part of man the tendency to exploit and abuse it for his own selfish ends.

The bible, as a western creation, does not cope well with the place of nature; and I’m not sure I see Hosea 4 as dealing directly with this problem (but I'm lekely wrong in that). No doubt none of this reflects your sentiments, I’m simply suggesting that Christians as a whole do not share your views, but more generally view nature as separate, not divine; also brutal, and running against the current of God.

I tend to think that the issue between man and nature exist as a result of a God who gave man dominion over the earth. Because of this we have a man who continually talks about conquering nature. Man is rational, nature is brutal, and nature should stand in accord with mans rationality.

I do most certainly agree though, that nature can turn into an idiol when standing on it's own. My argument would be, however, that it doesn't stand on it's own, and neither does man.
Chief Seattle

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Suzuki / Pirsig, an Interesting Comparison

Updated 9/10:
D.T. SUZUKI (on the original Mind / Prajna):
"....When we have an experience, for exmaple, of seeing a tree, all that takes place at the time is the percieving of something. We do not know whether this perception belongs to us, nor do we recognize the object which is percieved to be outside ourselves. The cognition of an external object already presupposes the distiction of outside and inside, subject and object, the perceiving and the perceived. When this seperation takes place, and is recognized as such, and clung to, the primary nature of the experience is forgotten, and from this an endless series of entanglements, intellectual and emotional, takes its rise.
The state of no-mind-ness refers to the time prior to the speration of mind and world, when there is yet no mind standing against an external world and receiving its impressions through the various sense-channels. Not only a mind, but a world, has not yet come into existence."

Later Susuki writes:
"Zen is always practical, and lives with the events of daily occurence. The past is gone and the present is here, but this present will also soon be gone, indeed it is gone; time is a succesion of these two contradicting ideas, and everything which takes place in this life of ours bestrides the past and the present. It cannot be said to belong to either of the two, for it cannot be cut in peices."

ROBERT PIRSIG (on Quality):
"...before an object can be distinguished, there must be a kind of nonintellectual awareness, which he [Phaedrus/Pirsig] called awareness of Quality. You can't be aware that you've seen a tree until after you've seen the tree, and between the instant of vision and instant of awareness there must be a time lag. We sometimes think of that time lag as unimportant, But there's no justification for thinking that the time lag is unimportant...none whatsoever.
The past exists only in our memories, the future only in our plans. The present is our only reality. The tree that you are aware of intellectually, because of that small time lag, is always in the past and therefore is always unreal. Any intellectually conceived object is always in the past and therefore unreal. Reality is always the moment of vision before the intellectualization takes place. There is no other reality."

The beauty of Pirsig is, even though the MOQ is simply repackaged Buddhism for the west, it doesn’t come off that way. We could say, Pirsig took the ideas of Buddhism, changed the words around and made millions. He even makes it a point to suggest that, while in India, he didn’t get anything out of the experience as if to down play the impact of eastern philosophy and make a case for his own originality. And clearly, as he references in ZMM a copy of the Tao Te Ching (which he copied himself) he is vary familiar with and fond of the philosophy.
NOTE: In ZMM Pirsig pulls out his copy of the Tao Te Ching, reads it, but replaces “Quality” with “Tao” and it fits all the way through. Pirsig, however, would have you believe this is mere coincidence, that he realized after the fact he was actually talking about the Tao even though (having copied it down) he would have been well aware of it before hand.

While in some sense Pirsig may not be completely original in meaning, he is original in his display. In the west, Buddhism has always had a sort of pop-religious existence, coming in and out of popularity like brand name jeans. Let’s face it, religion is religion (to the west). Pirsig, on the other hand, displays all the depth you typically find in philosophy and spins a tale with such finesse that you can’t help but be trapped in the idea of quality in the end. In other words, Pirsig’s MOQ does the job of not smelling like religion even though it really is. If your philosophy is ultimately ineffable, it’s definitely religion, or in the least mystical.

None the worse for Pirsig though. The first time I read Pirsig (many many moons ago) I had told my wife to pick the book up for me (in this case ZMM). After reading it, I went to pick up Lila so of course went right to the philosophy section; no luck. So, on to the fiction section; no luck again. Turns out it’s in the religion section under Buddhism, which of course, is where it belongs. I'm not sure whether Mr. Pirsig would see this as an insult or not as it's always seemed to me he wants the respect of a great philosopher. But in actuality, he's a theologian.

As an after thought, some time ago I came upon a site,, that’s dedicated to Pirsig’s philosophy (brand of Buddhist thought) and came to find there’s actually an individual (Anthony McWatt) who holds a PhD on the MOQ. Can you get a PhD in the Buddha-nature? Is this good news, or just more western intellectualizing and differentiation on the principles of Zen? And for that matter the undercurrent of every religion. Perhaps our understanding in the west of how we came to hold Dialectic above Excellence needs to be shown? Perhaps we need the intellect to purge out the old forms of Platonic idealism we have, and for this we need the university? Perhaps individuals like Pirsig are the bridge? Perhpas Pirsig's thought (in the west) is much more important then anybody knows? I don’t know? I’ll have to think about it for a while…..

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Truth, Uncertainty and the end of Inquiry

Richard Rorty:

“I think it was unfortunate that Pragmatism became thought of as a theory or definition for Truth. I think it would have been better if the Pragmatists had said; we can tell you about justification but we can’t tell you about truth, there is nothing to be said about it. That is, we know how we justify beliefs, we know that the adjective true is the word we apply to the beliefs that we’ve justified, and we know that a belief can be true without being justified, that’s about all we know about truth.

Justification is relative to an audience and to a range of truth candidates; truth isn’t relative to anything. Just because it isn’t relative to anything there’s nothing to be said about it. Truth with a capitol “T” is sort of like God, there’s not much you can say about God, and that’s why many theologians talk about ineffability and so on.

Contemporary Pragmatists tend to say the word true is indefinable, but none the worse for that, we know how to use it, we don’t have to define it. No description or interpretation is closer to reality then any other; some of them are more useful for some purposes then others, but that’s about all you can say. Nietzsche and perspectivism, which says you can’t rise above interpretations and get to facts, or dig down below interpretations and get to facts, is substantially the same thing as I meant before when I said that pragmatists try to get rid of the reality appearance distinction.”


"The Greek idea is that at a certain point in the process of inquiry you’ve come to rest because you’ve reached the goal. The Pragmatists are saying that we haven’t the slightest idea what it would be like to reach the goal. The idea that the aim of inquiry is correspondence to reality, or seeing the face of God, or substituting facts for interpretation is one that we just can’t make any use of.

All we really know about is how to exchange justifications of our beliefs and desires with other human beings; as far as we can see that will be what human life will be like forever. So Pragmatists regard the Platonist attempt to get away from time into eternity, or get away from conversation into certainty as a product of an age of human history where life on earth was so desperate and it seemed so unlikely that life could ever be better that people took refuge in another world.

Pragmatism comes along with things like the French revolution, industrial technology, all the things that made the 19th century believe in progress. When you think that the aim of life is to make things better for our descendents rather then to reach outside of history and time it alters your sense of what philosophy is good for. In the Platonist and theistic epoch, the point of philosophy was to get you out of this mess and into a better place; God, the realm of Platonic ideas, something like that.

The reaction against this Greek/Christian pursuit of blessedness through union with a natural order is to say, there isn’t any natural order, but there is a possibility of a better life for our great-great-great grandchildren. That’s enough to give you all the meaning and inspiration that you could use.



"Some human beings lead quite certain predictable lives. People in traditional societies, people in such miserable conditions that they have to work 14 hours a day and sleep the rest, there isn’t much uncertainty around. However, the uncertainty in the sense in which philosophers dramatize uncertainty is a luxury. It’s the kind of thing you can deliberately induce in yourself for the shear thrill of it by, say, reading all sorts of books and being uncertain over which ones to believe."

The Yellow Brick Road

In another blog discussion it was stated to me the following:

“"Buddhism compromises the truth of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ who said He alone was the way the truth and the life."

Upon this I asked a simple question:

“What is it that makes up the “He” in that statement?”

I have not received a response, which isn’t surprising. The claim is simple enough; it says that “Jesus” is the “Way” the “Truth” and the “Life”. So the question again put another way is this:“What is ‘The Jesus’ and what is ‘the way the truth and the life’?”

So I came up with a nice childlike analogy that sort of fits this occasion, consider the following video; I know you know it, but give it a watch, it’s short:

So keep this in mind as you read, "Jesus is the way to the truth, Jesus is the way to the truth, Jesus-Jesus-Jesus-Jesus, Jesus is the way to the truth......"

Let’s suppose I make the following statement:
"The yellow brick road is the way to the wizard’s castle.”

I think the statement is pretty clear here. You have “the road” (of yellow brick) where if followed leads to the wizard’s castle. The road in this case exists in objective reality however, and so does the wizard’s. As well, surely there are other ways to the wizard’s, and perhaps even other roads, but to get there you must take one. The problem is, as seen in the video, you’ve been told on so many occasions that the yellow one is the right one you don’t know any different.

Let’s switch gears quick and I’ll come back to the yellow road. Let’s now make the statement, “Jesus is the way to the truth.” Simple enough I think. Except in this case, where again is the Jesus and what is the truth. I actually received a response that implied the following answer: “Jesus is in the bible.” Ok, that’s a fair answer, so the “Road”, is the bible? So in effect we’re saying that “words” lead to truth, but only a certain set of words spoken and believed in a certain way? The Bible? Words by themselves are hopelessly meaningless, how is it that the bible is capable of capturing the mystery of some lost truth and no-one else can? It seems simple and strait forward enough.

Anyway, back to the yellow brick road. Let’s suppose that I begin following this road and along the way I meet someone who asks, “Where are you headed?” and I respond, “I’m off to see the wizard.”
“Oh” responds the man, “Well you can just take the I90 then, it’s a strait shot all the way there, no traffic, no hangups”
“No way!” I say, “The yellow brick road is the only way to the wizard.”
“Suite yourself” says the man, and off he goes.
Once again, before I even began my journey, the idea that the yellow brick road was the right path was so ingrained into my psyche I knew not how to say otherwise.

I continue on my way and along the path I meet several other individuals who continually tell me there are other roads to the wizard. I continually shoot them down until eventually I’m stuck with so much opposition I build a temple on the road. My innocents is lost, I am lost, and I’m rolled over with dogma. Now the conversation becomes not about the wizard, but the road itself. The road suddenly becomes the way, the truth and the life, and to all who appose me as they’re passing by on adjacent roads I say, “You are all so lost, the truth is here, it’s the yellow brick road.” And they continue on. Although I’m not alone, I’ve managed to convince those without brains, the heartless and those without courage that I’ve found the truth. Together we wage war against the other paths, we try to destroy them…..

I find that many dogmatic Christians live this way. They live somewhere on the road between life and death proclaiming that they are standing on the truth, that they hold it in they’re hand. It’s JESUS! It’s the Bible! Yet they do not follow, they squat; rather then follow a righteous rout to salvation, they seek to justify the road they live on by casting rebukes onto others chosen paths. They’re truth is no longer in the destination they seek; it exists in the justification that they have the right road to begin with. They have (as is said) mistaken the finger for the moon. They have mistaken the road for the truth, the road for the way and they no longer see where it is they go because they are no longer traveling anywhere. They are holding the bible as they’re own personal piece of idolatry and dogma, so they build a temple on it, and a house…

The bible is just words. What it means to seek and to follow Christ does not exist in a finite amount of black type written upon hundreds of gold leaf pages sitting on your coffee table, and it does not exist in a man who is now long since dead. In the same way the path to the wizard is not etched in yellow bricks built upon dirt and clay. To some degree, the path exists in your willingness to accept the journey and your ability to see the end. In other words, the truth doesn’t exist in Christ any more then the wizard exists in the road; the journey, as with truth, begins and ends with you.

What is missing then is simple. Had one traveled the road all the way to the wizard’s, and upon arriving climbed to the top of the clock tower and looked out, suddenly all errors would be recognized. One would see that one was wrong all along. Having faithfully traveled the journey, one now see’s that many paths lead to the wizard, some long, some short. Now, as with Christ, one accepts everyone.

Words, like roads, simply open one’s eyes to the realization that perhaps you should start traveling……

Monday, November 03, 2008

Religious Language / Form, Use & Body

There are 3 concepts in Buddhism (specifically Mahayana philosophy) used to describe the relation between substance and it’s function. They are tai (body), hsiang (form), and yung (use). Body corresponds to substance, Form to appearance, and Use to function.

In this way we can say an apple is reddish and round shaped; this is it’s Form and further how it appeals to the senses. So Form belongs to the world of the senses; or the world or appearance.

Use represents what an object stands for, it’s value, utility and function.

Lastly, the Body is what constitutes the apples apple-ship, without which it looses it’s being; no apple, even with all of it’s appearances and functions is an apple without it.

To be a real object then, all three of these concepts must be accounted for. Sounds a bit like Subject, Object, Quality, doesn't it?

Following this then, and applying these concepts to ones self-nature and wisdom; Self-nature (self-knowledge; not being, but knowing, as knowing IS being) is the body, and wisdom (prajna) it’s use. In this case there is nothing corresponding to form because the subject does not belong to the world of form.

I'd like to further discuss these concepts while moving forward in my Religious Language posts (as these become key).

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Prayer and Meditation

Perhaps because it’s Sunday today I have Prayer and Meditation on my mind, who knows. I’ve never been a fan of either of them; I find both meaningless, pointless, and an overall fruitless exercise.

When I speak to other followers of Buddhism they often talk about they’re Zazen (dhyana, meditation), and it always makes me think they’re missing the point. I'm reminded of the post below, "Buddha, on Belief". I can't escape the idea that people are just doing it out of tradition, or because it's "pop-religious" to do so. Going through the motions of religious tradition isn't what opens one's mind to the truth. Then again, perhaps I'm being a bit solipsistic, to each they're own right.

So as I was reading from Suzuki today and came upon something that led to me feel a bit justified in it, not that I needed the justification at all. Zen, God, (Quality if you will) exists in everyday life, not in sitting with your legs crossed or feeling guilty in prayer. Sure, meditation is a part of Buddhist practice, but it should never be separated from, or be seen as a different discipline from Prajna (wisdom, the power to penetrate into the nature of one’s own being, as well as the truth itself thus intuited). It shouldn’t be separated from everyday living….

In the eleventh year of Kai-yuan (723 C.E.) there was a Zen master in T’an-chou known as Chih-huang, who once studied under Jen, the great master. Later, he returned to Lushan monastery at Chang-sha, where he was devoted to the practice of meditation (tso-chan / dhyana), and frequently entered into a Samadhi (ting = inward meditation, not to be disturbed). His reputation reached far and wide.

At the time there was another Zen master whose name was Tai-yung. He went to Ts’ao-ch’i and studied under the great master for thirty years. The master used to call him: “You are equipped for missionary work.” Yung at last bade farewell to his master and returned north. On the way, passing by Huang’s retreat, Yung paid a visit to him and respectfully inquired: “I am told that your reverence frequently enters into a Samadhi. At the time of such entrances, is it supposed that your consciousness still continues, or that you are in a state of unconsciousness? If your consciousness still continues, all sentient beings are endowed with the consciousness and can enter into a Samadhi like yourself. If, on the other hand, you are in a state of unconsciousness, plants and rocks can enter into a Samadhi.”

Huang replied: “When I enter into a Samadhi, I am not conscious of either condition.”

Yung said: “If you are not conscious of either condition, this is abiding in eternal Samadhi, and there can neither be entering into a Samadhi nor rising out of it.”

Huang made no reply. He asked: “you say you come from Neng, the great master. What instruction did you have under him?”

Yung answered: “According to his instruction, no-tranquillization (ting-samadhi), no-disturbance, no-sitting (tso), no-meditation (ch’an) – this is the Tathagata’s Dhyana. The five Skandhas are not realities; the six objects of sense are by nature empty. It is neither quiet nor illuminating; it is neither real nor empty; it does not abide in the middle way; it is not doing, it is no-effect-producing, and yet it functions with the utmost freedom: the Buddha-nature is all-inclusive.”

This said, Huang at once realized the meaning of it and sighed: “These thirty years I have sat to no purpose!”

This then, reminded me of another such instance:

Observing how assiduously Ma-tsu was engaged in practicing tso-ch’an (meditation) everyday, Yuan Huai-Jang said: “Friend, what is your intention is practicing tso-ch’an?”

Mat-tsu said: “I wish to attain Buddhahood.”

Thereupon Huai-jang took up a brick and began to polish it.

Mat-tsu asked: “What are you engaged in?”

Said Huai-jang: “I want to make a mirror of it.”

Mat-tsu: “No amount of polishing makes a mirror out of a brick.”

Huai-jang at once retorted: “No amount of practicing tso-ch’an will make you attain Buddahood.”

Mat-tsu: “What do I have to do then?”

Huai-jang: “It is like driving a cart, when it stops, what is the driver to do? To whip the cart, or to whip the ox.”

Mat-tsu remained silent.

Seeing into Nothingness

Chang-yen King asked [Shen-hui]:
“You discourse ordinarily on the subject of Wu-nien (‘no-thought’ or ‘no-consciousness’), and make people discipline themselves in it. I wonder if there is a reality corresponding to the notion of Wu-nien, or not?”

Shen-hui answered:
“I would not say that Wu-nien is a reality , nor that it is not.”


“Because if I say it is a reality, it is not in the sense in which people generally speak of reality; if I say it is a non-reality, it is not in the sense in which people generally speak of non-reality. Hence Wu-nien is neither real nor unreal.”

"What would you call it then?”

“I would not call it anything.”

“If so, what could it be?”

“No designation whatever is possible. Therefore I say that Wu-nien is beyond the range of worldly discourse. The reason we talk about it at all is because questions are raised concerning it. If no questions are raised about it, there would be no discourse. It is like a bright mirror. If no objects appear before it, nothing is to be seen in it. When you say that you see something in it, it is because something stands against it.”

“When the mirror has nothing to illuminate, the illumination itself looses it’s meaning, does it not?”

“When I talk about objects presented and their illumination, the fact is that this illumination is something eternal belonging to the nature of the mirror, and has no reference to the presence or absence of objects before it.”

“You say that it has no form, it is beyond the range of worldly discourse, the notion of reality or non-reality is not applicable to it; why then do you talk of illumination? What illumination is it?”

“We talk of illumination because the mirror is bright and its self nature is illumination. The mind which is present in all things being pure, there is in it the light of Prajna [wisdom/intuitive knowlege], which illuminates the entire world-system to it’s furthest end.”

“This being so, when is it attained?”

“Just see into nothingness (tan chien wu).”

“Even if it is nothingness, it is seeing something.”

“Though it is seeing, it is not to be called something.”

“If it is not to be called something, how can there be the seeing?”

“Seeing into nothingness – this is true seeing and eternal seeing.”

Buddha, on Belief

Believe nothing on the faith of traditions,even though they have been held in honor for many generations and in diverse places. Do not believe a thing because many people speak of it. Do not believe on the faith of the sages of the past. Do not believe what you yourself have imagined, persuading yourself that a God inspires you. Believe nothing on the sole authority of your masters and priests. After examination, believe what you yourself have tested and found to be reasonable, and conform your conduct thereto.

Seeing, Thinking & Feeling

In fact, everything we encounter in this world with our six senses is an inkblot test.
You see what you are thinking and feeling, seldom what you are looking at.

Daulity, Love & Philosophy

The Buddha taught some people the teachings of duality that help them avoid sin and acquire spiritual merit.
To others he taught non-duality, that some find profoundly frightening.

Even offering three hundred bowls of food three times a day does not match the spiritual merit gained in one moment of love.

All philosophies are mental fabrications.
There has never been a single doctrine by which one could enter the true essence of things.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Argus

The wife is sick today and so are the kids; I'm left thoughtless, so here's "The Argus"