Gautama: Man vs. Cosmic Being

In studying Buddhsim, I’m struck by the apparent friction between Siddhartha Gautama the man, and Shakyamuni Buddha who has conquered birth and death. Was Gautama a normal human who, through dedication and persistence, made the discovery of Enlightenment? Or was he a supernatural Being who incarnated in a human form merely for the purpose of teaching? The answer is, paradoxically, both.

There is the interesting incident of the fortune-teller, a Brahmin mystic consulted by the king to predict the future of his unborn son. The Brahmin had insight into past lives and karma, and he was able to see that Gautama had amassed such vast amounts of merit—amazingly good karma created through altruistic deeds in his past life—that he would become a powerful and influential person who would have a huge impact on society: he would become either an emperor who would unite all people or a spiritual master who would influence the entire world. Gautama, because of his massive kindnesses in past lives, had no choice but to live a blessed life; his father wanted him to become a world-emperor, and we know that he tried to shelter Gautama from any harsh realities. That technique backfired, and when Gautama saw tragedy for the first time, he was so powerfully moved that he renounced pleasure and power to seek true freedom. So: Gautama was a “mere mortal” but was forced by his stockpile of merit to become something great.

At the moment of his Enlightenment, Gautama perceived all of his past lives. He told these stories to his followers, and they were recorded in a body of literature called the Jataka Tales—these tell of how Gautama’s previous lives amassed that amazing merit. For example, here is a brief summary of his last life before he was born as Gautama:

“In the story of the Hungry Tigress, a human, brahmin Bodhisattva stumbles across a starving tigress with her cubs while out meditating in nearby caves. Shocked and saddened upon seeing the dying creature; attempting to eat her own kin, the Bodhisattva deliberates how he can save this beautiful creature. He decides in a moment of passion and emptiness to hurl himself off the mountainside to where the tigress is so she can be saved by eating his body. His disciples become aware of this awe-inspiring act and are moved by the loving and kindness of this Bodhisattva.” (source)

This profound act of self-sacrifice, and the inspiration it caused in the Brahmin’s followers, was the final trigger for Gautama to be born with the merit to become either a world-emperor or a Buddha; only a Bodhisattva has the capacity for this level of compassion—so this brahmin was somehow a bodhisattva, but not a Buddhist per se. (You can read some more Jataka Tales here.)

However, that’s not the whole picture. We learn with the introduction of the Mahayana in the Lotus Sutra, that Shakyamuni Buddha has *always* been enlightened, and in fact there are countless Buddhas that exist beyond space and time, which are only mental constructs. From this perspective, Gautama is simply modeling the path that we all must follow to realize Enlightenment ourselves.

With the former explanation, Gautama simply had the right ingredients to create the recipe for awakening, amassed from many lifetimes of accumulating merit. From the latter explanation, that entire process is a play put on to inspire unenlightened beings to pursue Enlightenment. I think we can hold both explanations simultaneously!

But that doesn’t satisfactorily explain for me whether Gautama was born self-aware, able to speak and walk, and self-proclaim himself as a future Buddha as a newborn. I feel that was an embellishment introduced in the Buddhacarita by Asvagosa. So our speculation is left open-ended.

Reflections on Guanyin

The core of the buddhist disciplines is putting it into practice. There are many approaches to buddhist philosophy and science: the eightfold path, the seven-step method for developing radical compassion, the six perfectionizers, the five yogic stages, the four noble truths, the three principal paths, the two collections, and developing single-pointed concentration, to name but a few. As many as there are approaches to practice, there are presented even more ways of discussing them: teaching, admonishing, and encouraging alike.

I’ve spent weeks parsing through the Platform Sutra, a text which cannot be apprehended with the intellect alone. Master Huineng has an unconventional approach of inventing creative new definitions for established buddhist terminology, and providing wildly heterodox explanations for his unique interpretations of classical buddhist teachings. He leaves his students in a state of shock and instability. Dumbfounded, the disciples are susceptible to the “direct teaching”: a method which overwhelms the intellect altogether and puts one in a state of nonconceptual awareness, thus experiencing a nondual state of consciousness.

Buddhist practices, whether they be gradual or direct (or neither), are intended to trigger this awestruck state of nondual, nonconceptual awareness. Major realizations however are not caused, rather they are cessations; not an acquisition of something, but a stopping of mistaken perspectives. With the Guanyin session, we’ve started to sample this process, and get a taste for subsuming the intellect in practice to realize a deeper fundamental state of mind.

One purpose of ritual is to overwhelm the senses and wear down the conceptual mind’s need to grasp and order the outside world. In the Buddha Hall, we are overwhelmed with bright lights and thousands of golden Buddha images. In the ceremony, repeated twice each day, we rhythmically chant fantastical stories of the enlightened beings’ capacity to save suffering creatures from torment. We beg them to rescue us, and chant their powerful names until we lose track of ordinary time and space.

Of course, the Buddhas cannot really save us; they can only teach us how to save ourselves. Thus we practice the techniques taught to us: keeping a commitment to morality, a willingness to help others, an urgency to drop confusion and affliction, the desire for higher knowledge and wisdom, and–crucially–to trigger nonconceptual, nondual awareness. This final step is the main event, for which all the other practices and teachings can merely provide support. The ceremonies and meditations only function when the heart is consumed with love and compassion for others, and the mind is open to extraordinary possibilities for consciousness.

This is why we enter the Buddha Hall each day and chant the sadhanas and mantras. We deepen our resolve, demonstrate our commitment (primarily to our own selves), strengthen our capacity for altruism, and release our attachment to our personal comfort and self-importance. It is only under these conditions, in this crucible, that we can be open to powerful states of personal growth and transformation along the path of the Bodhisattva Buddhas’ ideal.

Affliction is Awakening – Reflections on the Platform Sutra

The Direct Teaching described by Master Huìnéng (638–713 c.e.), the founder of Zen, is at once immediate and elusive. In his teachings, compiled in the Dharma Jewel Platform Sutra (citations below refer to page numbers in this text), he describes his realization of the Original Mind in ways that are simple and profound: he begins his teaching by telling his students to simply attend to the purity of their own nature (7). Yet this recognition of the fundamental purity of mind cannot be attained, achieved, or worked towards. There is no direct nor gradual teaching (47), and relying on will or intellect is a mistake (25). These apparent paradoxes are pointing at a greater, all-encompassing truth, and this approach to awakening is perhaps no better articulated than in his statement “ordinary people are themselves Buddha, and affliction is itself Bodhi”. What a conundrum! Certainly ordinary people don’t experience themselves as Buddha, nor do they experience tumultuous emotions as the awakened mind (bodhi बोधि).  This warrants further investigation.

Mental affliction (kleśa, क्लेश in the Sanskrit language) is described as anything that disturbs a person’s perfect peace of mind: not a perfect unmoving stillness, but rather the ability for the mind to be “everywhere engaged but nowhere attached” (32). Being free of kleśa does not necessarily preclude the existence of thoughts and feelings. Instead, one’s personal sense of peace is undisturbed by whatever passes through the contents of consciousness. Indeed, Master Huìnéng describes quite pointedly that the blissful realm of the Buddhas is no further away than our own immediate experience: “A person’s own physical body is the city of the Pure Land,” he tells us, “the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and tactile sense are its gates.” In addition he describes the “inner gate, the gate of consciousness.” (41) So indeed the experience of awakening to Buddhahood is imminent, to be found in one’s own sensuous and intellectual experiences.

The mind is interpreting the senses, compiling and labeling the incoming raw data to create the narrative of experience. This process takes a split second, so the mind—one’s own self-consciousness—is continually a moment behind actual reality. In that moment the present becomes the past. The mind is continually trying to keep up with the present moment as sense data becomes memory, and thus the story of one’s life unfolds.

In the buddhist understanding of perception, this process is occurring mostly in the eighteen dhātu (धातु): the sense organs (eyes, ears, olfactory nerves in the sinus cavities, tongue, and peripheral nervous system), the sense objects (light and color, vibrations through a fluid, vapors or particulate chemicals, chemicals in solids or liquids, and physical vibrations on or near the body), and the sense consciousnesses that mediate between the two. Buddhist physiology includes an additional sixth sense: consciousness or the mental sense, which perceives mental objects, such as thoughts and feelings, distinct from the other five senses. The mind (itself an elusive concept) then collects all this sense data from the sense consciousnesses, classifies it as pleasant or unpleasant, and applies labels and names to create a narrative for the ego to ride along. The sense data is essentially neutral; it’s the interpretation that creates thoughts and feelings which are upsetting, whether pleasantly or unpleasantly so. Perturbing experiences are actually purely mental.

According to evolutionary biology, emotions developed over time as mammal nervous systems became more sophisticated, communities began to form, and interactions with the environment became more complex. When creatures from the sea made their way onto land their range of vision increased by virtue of the fact that light can travel much further through air than through water. For the first time creatures could see predators and other dangers long before they encountered them, and this created an opportunity to evaluate options and consider how to react.

Disgust and fear were the first emotions to develop. Disgust is a primitive emotion to help an organism avoid substances which would be toxic if consumed. Fear is clearly a reaction to potentially dangerous situations which triggers enhanced senses and faster reflexes, but today is activated by perceived threats such as information coming from the news media. Pride, in which puffing up the chest increases lung capacity and makes one look larger to a potential opponent, has evolved to relate to conveying social status and is generally considered to be a positive emotion, while contempt is a later evolutionary development specifically for primate alphas conveying social status to boisterous and competitive youngsters. The point here is that emotions are physiological reactions to stimulus which have changed in function as animals have formed complex social structures. Disgust is rarely biologically required to prevent one from drinking contaminated water or eating putrified food but is still useful for conveying to another person when they exhibit behavior which is socially unacceptable. Indeed, perhaps many emotions could be interpreted very differently today than when they were strictly necessary for survival. (See Paul Ekman’s research on emotion for more information on this topic.)

Relating the above to Master Huìnéng’s assertion, it seems plausible that the reaction to stimulus could be altered, or the imposed narrative dropped altogether. Master Huìnéng alludes to this process of reinterpreting the afflicted mental states into the pure mind of a Buddha when he describes a method of practice: “transform the three poisons [greed, hatred, and delusion] into morality, contemplative calm, and insight” (27). He states that a person could live a life of happiness, and that bliss is imminently accessible: “Ordinary deluded people do not realize that the Pure Land is within themselves” (39).

The Pure Land he is referencing is the abode of a specific perfected being, a Buddha named Amitabha. This enlightened being is part of a matrix of Buddhas of transformation, collectively known as the Buddha Families. They’re called families because they include the collection of beings who share a particular mental affliction in common (though of course all unenlightened beings experience all the afflicted states at some time or another).

There are many correspondences to each of the Buddha families such as, in Amitabha’s case, an affinity for the Western direction, the sense of taste, the color red (representing passion and bliss), and so on. Each describes a mentally afflicted state as well as an associated quality of the enlightened mind: these Buddhas are telling us that once the deluded narrative is dropped, the energy of the afflicted state is a quality of the enlightened mind.

Amitabha is specifically oriented with ignorant desire, also called lust or greed; the deep-seated sense that we can somehow resolve suffering by acquiring enough stuff or just the right thing, that the source of one’s happiness is an intrinsic component of the object of desire. If the story is dropped, the resulting awareness is discrimination: the capacity to assess and evaluate this or that, to recognize clearly the qualities of different objects, not as objects with intrinsically desirable qualities but for what they truly are: the subject-object-perceptual relationship of the eighteen dhātu.

Amitabha has four other colleagues: Akshobya, Ratnakara, Amoghasiddhi, and Vairochana. Each is connected with an afflicted, ignorant emotional state: respectively anger, pride, jealousy, and delusion itself. Each is the epitome of the alternative enlightened state of mind: clear reflective wisdom, equanimity, accomplishment, and understanding of metaphysical reality itself. The promise of each of these Buddhas is that the very thing we call the mental affliction can be ridden, surfed like a wave, into its resultant enlightened state of mind.

Let’s look briefly at the other four Buddha Families.

Anger, which was evolutionarily developed to give an animal the power and focus to overcome an obstacle, has at its root the awesome power of clarity. This clarity in the enlightened state is a deep understanding of interdependence. No singular phenomena exists without all of the causes and conditions of the entire universe. Ignorance is thinking “I’m right and you’re an idiot,” while the Buddha Akshobya guides people to recognize how all phenomena are connected.

Pride is the afflicted state of thinking one is special, that one’s unique gifts make one superior to others. The awakened quality of the Buddha Ratnakara is equanimity. All beings are fundamentally equal: all share in the riches of the Buddha Nature, and have the same capacity to be awake in this very moment.

Jealousy or envy is the sister affliction of pride, when one has ill will towards others, wishing their personality, possessions, or relationships to be one’s own.  One actually has to see the positive qualities in another person to be jealous of them, but with a little humility one can instead have admiration and respect. An interesting characteristic of envy is that this could allow someone to see the previously envied one as a teacher, which in the appropriate context could lead to a relationship with them as a Spiritual Advisor. Buddha Amoghasiddhi embodies the enlightened quality of accomplishment: seeing that the work is already done, that Buddhahood is imminent and ever-present, that the good qualities we see in others are in fact good qualities we all share together.

In a way, the final mental affliction of ignorance itself encompasses the other four. Delusion, after all, is the basis for all other mental afflictions. As Master Huìnéng points out, “In one past moment of confused thought you are just an ordinary person. If the very next thought is awakened, you are a Buddha.” (27) Vairochana’s name translates into English as “appearances,” and indeed reality contains the phenomena-show of all appearances and experiences. However, ignorance leads beings to perceive the apparent world as full of dangers and delights, overlooking the fundamental equanimity of all beings, the infallibility of interdependence. Ignorance is, quite simply, misperceiving how the world is working, and the enlightened quality is clarity into how things really are. So we have another dhātu, a different way that the eighteen dhātu of sense perceptions can function: dharmadhātu, the enlightened quality of Buddha Vairochana, the realm of reality, the sphere of Truth, the infinite play of interdependence, perception of the container of the universe and everything within it.

Thus, mental afflictions do not need to be eradicated, as they are a part of Buddhahood. The energy of mental afflictions is the same energy of Awakening, simply with a change of perspective and perception. Buddha Nature is already present, it is just obscured by misunderstanding. There is no real difference between an ignorant person and an awakened person; an awakened person is simply aware of what’s actually happening, instead of being caught up in her narrative and story around it. We would already be awake; it is merely because of the mental afflictions that we are asleep.

When Master Huìnéng gives the apparently paradoxical instruction that “ordinary people are themselves Buddha, and affliction is itself Bodhi,”  he is speaking to a simple truth: if we drop the story we tell ourselves about our thoughts and feelings, we can ride those very same energies to Awakening. There is no difference between ignorance and awakening; just pay attention to what is.


When & Why to Slit Your Wrists

I feel yet again that I’m finally starting to understand how to do spit ritual practice.  The various varied teachings I’ve received over the many years, the various teachers who have attempted to guide me, none of that can be said to be superfluous, although clarity has not been a result of all my studies.

In Geluk Buddhism, the latest of four schools of Buddhism to develop in Tibet, an ancient yogi by the name of Naropa is highly revered.  The crux of Naropa’s story is that he was a well educated and  extraordinarily gifted scholar of spirituality, and at the hight of his career as a high-ranking administrator of the world’s greatest university, he realized that he didn’t understand any of his decades of academic research and debate. In spite of his talent, discipline, and ability to out-smart everyone, he hadn’t developed any of the profound transformative insights into the nature of consciousness and reality that he (and all spiritual practitioners) expect to develop when they dedicate their entire lives to practice.

So he leaves the university without warning to his colleagues, and seeks out a mysterious Guru who has the ability to illuminate his understanding.  Most of his story is a series of misadventures in which he misses seeing his superhuman Guru right in front of him because of his selfishness in his haste to find his Guru.  Naropa’s despair grows and grows, and increasingly he believes he’s on a fool’s errand, and that not only will he not find his guru, his faith in all the teachings he had mastered is shaken.  Eventually Naropa gives up altogether and takes a razor to his wrist to end his life. It’s at this point that the Guru Naropa had been desperately seeking wanders up and says blandly, “Now why would you go and try to kill a Buddha?”

Naropa had reached a point where life just wasn’t worth living without a deep and meaningful connection between himself and the cosmos.  His education, skill, resources, and even a few superpowers he had developed along the way were all useless to him; just more possessions that will vanish at his death.  In Buddhist terminology, this is called renunciation; the recognition that all the material world could possibly offer is of no value without the spiritual insights to give life true meaning.

It was only with renunciation that Naropa’s Guru could really help him. Up until that point, Naropa was struggling to reach material goals, not spiritual ones, regardless of what he thought of himself as a high practitioner.

Naropa was a historical person, and much of his heiography is based in fact, to whatever degree that’s possible when viewing history. Nowadays it’s not so simple to be a spiritual seeker like Naropa was.  The modern cultural lust for scientific materialism disables most everyone from having the kind of faith that Naropa had; every last thing must be quantifiable and observed before given any credence of truth.  Personal experience is secondary (at best) to that which is observed, measured, and documented.

In Naropa’s time, the purpose of university was to pursue deep truths, and people of all cultures and religious faiths would debate existential philosophy until everyone had found a satisfactory resolution.  Today, fundamentalism is the norm, and philosophical worldviews compete in a marketplace to recruit members (hopefully paying ones).  This is just as true for science and BestBuy as it is for Scientology and Buddhism.

Seekers  can dabble endlessly with spiritualized entertainment, channel surfing gurus and practices, flipping to a new one when the current one gets uncomfortable or worse: boring.  It’s quite a simple thing to adopt the dress and mannerisms of a spiritual person – there’s no shortage of shops to sell you special clothes and ritual implements.  One can get quite a mighty self identity as a spiritual person – and of course that mighty self identity is precisely the problem your Guru will help you to resolve.

When Naropa finally does meet his Guru, the man blows him off repeatedly, and Naropa makes increasingly harrowing attempts to gain his teacher’s fortune, such as crashing a wedding to steal booze.  With each screw up (often including brutal injuries to himself), the nature of existential reality – and his Guru – is revealed to Naropa in some subtle way. Naropa heals, now with greater faith, and he carries on.

Nowadays and back then, spiritual teachers had to face a mine field of potential psychological problems in their students.  There are more screwed up ways of thinking than there are thinkers to think them.  We have the luxury reinventing ourselves repeatedly, with new and exciting neurosis to nurture.  And the Guru’s job is to reveal to you how your mind is creating all of your problems, out of thin air, using the power of thought and language.  This will necessarily be a painful process, as the stupid dim-witted selfish self we believe in fully is ripped away by some guy in weird clothes when you went to his workshop as he passed through town, and you thought “maybe this is the path that will really help me”.

But there’s no getting process for spiritual teachers, no way at all to determine if they are qualified to guide you, or dedicated to their students, or have time for your bullshit.  No way to know if they are illuminated and trying to save the world, or if they are just trying to secure the next book deal and build a fan base.  No way to know if they have the insights into your spirit to guide you along the path skillfully.

Naropa got to the point that he was ready to slit his wrists rather than live in a world without his guru.  Today, renunciation looks a lot like chronic depression, and your spiritual teacher might just refer you to a psychiatrist if they don’t have the time or skill or insight to actually guide you. And you have no way to know.

Lineage is an Obstacle

Lineage is valuable only so far as a person who has produced true results in their spiritual practice can pass on their direct experience to close students.  Within the first generation of disciples, these teachings become codified and are then passed down as dogma. Meanwhile, the unconscious social requirements among the group of students becomes primary, and a religious institution forms.

The process of deep spiritual practice requires one to deconstruct habitual patterns of thought, paramount of which is unconscious social conformity.  Yet religious institutions place social conformity at a higher value than the teachings themselves, as evidenced by practitioners – past and present – who have been ostracized from their spiritual communities for acting in alignment with high spiritual principles that threaten the cohesion of the social group.

The original teachings – lacking the power of subtle transmission – are preserved in writings, recordings, and the minds of conformist students, which can be useful to a true deep practitioner only inasmuch as it provides access to the academic presentation of the original teacher’s experiences.

Each morning I awake thirsty, dry, parched

The potential for meaningful life evaporates with dreams,
Consciousness faced only with the drudgery of embodiment.
What can nourish this this dead flesh alive?

There is no meaning, although fancy acolytes in unusual garb preaching exotic philosophy give away the secrets to total happiness and immortality. The purpose of life is to erect structures of meaning from the abysmal void of existential aloneness. To use meaninglessness to create meaning. To care about something other than one’s self, to take the mind away from the only truth: total bleak emptiness.
A more apt term than any I self apply – herbalist, technician, educator, meditator, homesteader, hipster – is seeker. My only real interest in the world is to find deep meaning, the rich nutritive substance of life and existence. I have sought it largely from spiritual teachings, which through subtlety and precision strive to describe the heart of our life.  I studied Taoist healing and meditation, Buddhist philosophy on causality, yogic techniques for dissolution of the self, and while I am certainly no expert, I have strived to get to the heart of the teachings and apply them in my life.  Other people who are close to me might say they see an improvement in my attitude, but my internal experience does not corroborate.  Perhaps I have become more skilled presenting a kind face to the people I interact with.  Karma teaches that we should treat others the way we want to be treated or better, and that will ripen (someday) as all my dreams coming true.  It’s a very fantastical and magical presentation, and very inspiring when one swallows it part and parcel.
Same answer for everything: no point. Just making up value and meaning as we go along.  Stuck in my body, stuck in my mind, stuck in life.  Then just meaningless actions to fill the total void.  No value in relationships unless they keep me entertained and distracted.  But I’ve become very bored with other peoples ideas, mostly half formed or less, and aimed at being smarter or cuter than others.  No value in work except it brings in the money to keep a miserable life moderately comfortable.  Home, travel, entertainment – all serve only the same small function, to supplant the meaninglessness with some distraction.
Quick solutions don’t work – if only you excersised more and ate right! Long term solutions don’t work – meditate on emptiness for thirty years and maybe you too can have a direct perception of ultimate reality! Everyone’s got a sales pitch to buy their product – which is actually a world view, and the cost is my attention, and the product is my validating someone else’s half-assed theory.  Nothing works.  There is no working for something else to do. Suicide is so tragic to the survivors because they beat themselves up about it, as if they could have done things differently, which of course is true, no one ever really gives enough attention to the people they love. But suicide is motivated by something much deeper – all the love in the world adds up to a teaspoonful in the face of total meaninglessness of existence. Would I prefer to blip out, lose consciousness forever, forgoe this exciting opportunity for life in exchange for non-existence?  Do I not care to see the next 50 or 60 years? Nothing of value exists, and so there is nothing to pursue?  If this spiritual teachings actually did something would it have produced some result? But it seems the only function is to provide a magical worldview to distract from the totally meaningless reality of cosmic indifference.
Time to get out of bed, go to work. Lots of important stuff to do today.

Are You Teachable?

The predominant trend, in my culture at least, appears to be a mindless consumerism in which two thirds of energy used is simply wasted. “More stuff” is how people define their value, which just digs a deeper hole for us all to get out of.

I live rurally for a few, very simple reasons: clean air and water, the space for my extended family, peace and quiet  for meditation and study, and low cost of living. I don’t recommend it for everyone, nor do I recommend city-dwelling.

Everyone ought to have the freedom to pursue their creative individual goals. I wish their goals included health and mindfulness. Indeed, the goals of unlimited material wealth and possessions and meat at every meal are misguided and abusive – in fact are mindlessly creating the cultural nightmare that will almost certainly exhaust the earth’s resources preventing humanity’s descendants from having any comfortable standard of living. If only a brighter future could be a social priority.

My personal goals are to be a model for mindful living, an educator of health and meditation. I hope that others will be willing to listen to the ideas I present and look at my way of life, before assumptively pegging my position and attacking.

Hey, steakhouses are great! I love grass fed beef properly cooked – but anyone can cook a steak, and passing corn-fed beef as gourmet is a cop-out. I’ve encountered very few chefs who can make a vegetarian meal as satisfying and nourishing as a steak dinner – it’s possible, but requires real skill and artistry.

I don’t think of rural living as liberal and tolerant – most of my neighbors think of a shotgun as the great problem-solver. I’ve come face to face (or seed or flower or root) with the things that have to die for me to survive, and I’ve found that we have to get clear on how precious water is as a commodity – it doesn’t just come from a tap.

Is anyone who educates people – teachers, writers, journalists – merely forcing an agenda on unsuspecting heathens? The error here is obvious, I hope: what other way to learn to write or operate a car or any of the millions of nuanced skills you utilize each day other than from someone taking the time to patiently educate others?  To cite personal experience, my students have told me that my classes are enjoyable and meaningful – on subjects from critical thinking, to creative writing, to fermenting foods, to the Eight Principles of Chinese medical theory, to T’ai Chi, to Shiatsu acupressure, and more – these students typically felt that I shared views and skills and let them decide how to use them.

In the case of living lighter and more simply on the earth as a personal path to wellness and resource conservation, I’ve found that when people are educated on the harm that their lifestyle causes, or a path to superior wellness, they typically embrace it.  There is plenty of evidence that western consumer capitalist culture is a dangerous blight to the continued homeostasis of the entire planet, not to mention keep countless humans and animals in slavery just to feed a wasteful habit – and I can point you to some sources if this information comes as news to you.

As one of my teachers, who has most certainly helped many people find more meaning in their lives, has told me: some people are just uneducable.  Presented with truthful information, they reject it or simply argue, typically from a place of ignorance and/or egocentricity.  Certainly I’ve had a couple of these students as well, though I show them as much patience as they have willingness to learn.
I am certain that we are more alike than different – all beings have relatively identical needs, wants, hopes, and fears – but fascinatingly different ways of addressing them.  Humans, it seems, will suck and accumulate resources far beyond need or even comfort, and given the opportunity, will out-compete all other life-forms on earth, and so we find ourselves at the beginning again of this dialogue.

Tragic Stories vs. Happy Endings

I recall watching the blissful film Amelie: I was so overjoyed by the film that I stepped outside and the weight of the ‘real’ world was crushing – I had been so deeply disillusioned by the film that I was unable to cope with even the minor irritations of daily life for a time.

Horrific stories for entertainment create the opposite problem: we hyper focus on others’ suffering to blunt or numb our own pain, or to shock ourselves from our own malaise – it’s exciting, but sadistic.  Be well aware, this includes daily news television programs and newspapers.

There’s a tendency in New Age circles to seek the bliss we are assured in Heaven, and it leads to a manic imbalance.  Of course we want happy stories to distract from our painful experience, but the more we seek the haze of fantasy, the less able we truly are to face inevitable pain and persevere.

It is in the fire that we are forged, our souls tempered to face the fear of abyss and annihilation that just precedes a full dissolution of ego/self leading to ultimate freedom.

What kind of stories do I like? Stories that reveal depth of consciousness, awareness of reality, aspiration to a greater ideal, compassion over villainy, heroes who forgive rather than destroy.  These stories are usually not clearly tragic or redeeming, but rather reveal with tenderness the bittersweet victories against our own weakness.

Ever see the film ‘Fight Club’? Most people can’t get past the apparent violence of the film, when in fact it’s a story about how we beat ourselves up, but in fact can use that momentous energy to transform ourselves and our world.

One of the many secret teachings of the film is that if we can’t face the horrible – either in ourselves [in identification with the characters] or our world [in the audiences’ relationship to the film] – we will never be able to truly find beauty and liberation – by loving the messed-up characters, or seeing the deeper messages of the film. A nearly perfect movie that addresses these questions quite directly.

Activism vs. Capitalism as Vehicle for Social Transformation

Capitalism needn’t be destructive – when balanced with responsibility rather than greed, creativity can flourish, especially in affluent societies.  A responsible capitalism aligns closely with the ideals of Democracy: all people are offered the same opportunities to succeed, all people have an equal voice in government.

In practice, however, even a cursory look into the actions of government and big business reveals ethical indiscretions.

In the United States of America, we can see a fairly steady transition from free enterprise to oligarchy: as individuals and then corporations accumulate wealth over time, they naturally are able to have a greater influence on economics – and thus government.  A pattern emerges in which the people at the higher levels of government have extensive connections with those in power at large corporations.  Greed and simplicity has overshadowed a moral obligation to due process and the citizenry, and thus lobbyists and handshake deals more thoroughly influence our political climate than does public opinion or national elections.  These indiscretions go so far as to lead to violent conflict both at home and abroad, such as street crime, alleged terrorist attacks, and endless wars both public and secret, including economic warfare.

It is at this point that popular opinion in the country of origin begins to swing in opposition of the dominant government in protest of social inequality, and when the voices of people are not responded to, they become aggressive.

A new culture of civil disobedience has grown in North America, starting, it seems, with the Seattle Washington WTO meetings in November 1999.  These demonstrations can easily be thousands or tens of thousands of attendants; the experience is frightening, as the herd is emotionally enflamed, feel left out of significant conversation.  The expectation of the police is not to serve and protect – but apparently to defend the corporate and political privacy, and use force if necessary to do it.

Thus there is a strong negative charge at massive demonstrations and the fear is what is picked up on and reported by popular media.  A militant sense of defiance backed by righteousness  is what is expressed by these gatherings, but the egalitarian principles that underly the indignance are little extolled.  Demonstrators, seeking to express themselves and educate the populace are instead perceived as chaotic and frightening – which serves to alienate moderate people from the cause and having ultimately negative results.

The principles of liberty and freedom that the U.S.A. was founded on do still exist, but we cannot count on our temporary [Right-Wing Fundamentalist Christian] government to encourage or protect them.  Our freedoms are available to us, but we must take responsibility to ensure their sovereignty.

In my day to day life, I want to contribute to other’s happiness rather than make anyone’s life any harder.  I like to leave the spaces I use nicer than I found them.  I prefer not to contribute to hostility by vehemently arguing in opposition to my government’s decisions or speaking with an impolite tone when addressing those who have political opinions different from my own.  I envision a positive future, and live my life each day as though success is guaranteed.  I vote with my dollars by seeking out small business and local merchants and farmers.  I believe that each person I treat with kindness is a victory.

As I mature from a young person into an adult, I am reevaluating my ideas of success.  In the past I have tended to shun a higher salary in exchange for a preferable quality of life, but now I begin to consider how I can raise healthy children and offer them educational opportunities as my parents did for me, or how to offer my parents resources as they age.

Perhaps, if I’m using it to help others, pursuing money as part of a business sharing Dharma isn’t necessarily evil.

In my studies of energetic medicine and the patterns of consciousness that underly all of existence, I tend to prescribe to a model in which intention is the precursor to action and indeed predetermines action and outcome.  Consciousness itself has intrinsic value more important than any commodity.  As people grow and advance, accelerating learning and broadening perspective through world travel and advanced communications systems, they are more and more attracted to activities that help them develop their consciousness – an obvious example is the growth in Yoga teaching as an industry.

I posit then, that I can utilize the tools of intention and manifestation, clarity of vision and insight, to create a center of consciousness development via clean lifestyle choices – what is popularly called a “business”: we utilize the tools of commerce and money to create something truly accessible and available to people so that they can get an enjoyable experience learning about – for lack of a more accurate word – Dharma.

In the meantime, I can generate capital – something done with expert recklessness in the Silicon Valley – for myself and family, as well as employees and teachers.  Since we will use manifestation to ensure our business is successful, we can diversify, opening franchises ad facilitating social projects, generating revenue that we can use to reinvest in our community.  All the while living in comfort and luxury to support deep personal meditation practice.

Ah, activism:

  • By emphasizing the positive rather than the negative, your movement can recruit and educate people rather than frighten and alienate them.
  • When you focus on the brilliance of loving kindness, compassion, can feel love and forgiveness to your “enemies” rather than hatefulness and malaise.
  • Rather than continuing to re-articulate the obvious problems in our society in endless social dialog, emphasize cultivating a quality of consciousness that allows you to see through the problem to discern the specific techniques you can employ in your life to have an impact.
  • Help people orient towards a model of health that involves independence and quality discernment to inform their health choices – in this way, people can see beneficial results in the ways that they want to without having to prescribe to anothers’ dogmatic ideas on health.
  • Vote with your dollars!  These speak louder than ballots in todays one-world-political-industrial complex.

Rootless Cosmopolitan

On various forms exists a field for “occupation”.  This field tends to give me pause – does it refer to how I keep myself occupied, or perhaps my vocation – how I earn money?  Both of these have extensive answers – which not incidentally are dissimilar.

I’ve never been consistent with earning money, as it’s not something I prize highly and it’s not usually worth the dirty work it takes to get some.  My career has veered from working at a radio station as a production engineer, to lecturing as a visiting faculty at a university in Transilvania; I’ve worked for a major bank as a network administrator to some degree, and I’ve been a webmaster for years.  I passed through Reno with a nutrition consultation practice with some taiji teaching, and until very recently, I lived and worked at a rural residential bodywork and nutrition institute.

How I occupy my time is in organizing, packing, traveling, and unpacking again.  I find ways to live cheaply – both in California and on foreign soil – so that I can avoid earning money for months at a time.  I’ve owned and disowned various vehicles, apartments, houses, and tents.  My dearest friends scatter the globe.  I’ve spent many hours crossing miles and time zones incased in car or plane.

My occupation, then, is that of a Rootless Cosmopolitan.  My concept of home includes many places and possibilities, continually expanding, none particularly more appealing than the others.  I can survive anywhere I can find some fresh vegetables and a camp stove.  Often I have found myself in a lover’s home while in transition.

My relationship with this lifestyle has shifted in recent years as I’ve connected with a different pace of life than one measured in time-clock minutes and traffic lights.  Fleeing from a fixation on the urban, I drove off pavement to feel Earth under me.

I discovered intentional community, people rediscovering their sense of place, committing to healing work and just… not driving.  I trained in the healing arts at a secular temple miles from civilization, while my parents decided – along with my agrarian brother and I – to leave the suburbs and invest their retirement from academia into starting an ecologically-based family farm.

Today, as electricity is activated at the farm and roofing goes onto our first building, I have completed my first academic year as an educator at my beloved healing arts institute.  I travel between these frequently, though I am much more conscious of fossil fuel use (as the perils of this addiction become more clear), so my circle isn’t much larger than this for now – though it does include San Francisco and beyond.  I have a budding career with Heart and an ambitious family venture blossoming in front of me, and my desire to do the work is larger than my desire to move on.

Still, my home is wide and varied, and my heart beats faster at the thought of open road.  It’s likely that my career will expand to include joint venture urban entrepreneurship in addition to teaching and consulting.  My occupation has evolved along with my sense of place: I am a Rooted Nomad, cultivating a sense of place wherever I stand.