From the author of Hardcore Zen and Sit Down and Shut Up, currently on tour with his latest, Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate.
Pray for it
The Secret and Kosmic Narcissism: Stuart Davis on Steve Pavlina on the Virginia Tech Massacre
A blog entry by Stuart Davis that I enjoyed.
The issues of religion and politics are very touchy. People tend to hold their beliefs very dearly, regardless of the extent to which those beliefs shape their day-to-day lives. Many people are strong believers and live their lives accordingly. Many more cling to the fundamentals of one belief system or other that show little or no effects in their lifestyles. I, for one, have swayed back and forth between the two a great deal in my life. I have experienced a great deal of emotional turmoil at times, and have seen myself become rabid and brutal in defense of ideas and values that have very little bearing on my life or choices. But as I have progressed in my spiritual journey, I’ve made a little headway in better living by the principles I claim to value.
One of the principles I’ve struggled with has been tolerance. My predisposition is to look at things from an all-or-nothing standpoint, and tolerance has not eluded that unfriendly gaze. I let myself think for a while that I must let everyone believe whatever ridiculous nonsense they choose to, because that’s their “right.” I later swung to the other extreme and thought that I must take (and give) great pains to “help” others part with their mistaken beliefs, even as my own were constantly growing and changing. I hoped that by unloading my beliefs on passersby, I might be able to nail down my belief system definitively and move on to other things, like living life. I didn’t necessarily need all of the gruesome details, but I wanted desperately to know the basic gist of the big picture. I felt compelled to lash out at all of the unsatisfactory attempts to explain things from society’s religions, especially atheism and popular forms of monotheism. I resented their audacious claims about the world beyond time and space. At the same time, though, I fumbled around desperately for some story about that world that I could buy.
Lately I’ve come to terms with the idea that I will never be certain about what exists beyond this world. My beliefs and understanding about this world and beyond will continue to grow and change as long as I continue to live and breathe. When I accept that, I learn to practice tolerance because the beliefs I ridicule today may be the ones I embrace tomorrow. But I am still much less likely to accept some beliefs than others. As I have explored different ideas, I have learned that some are simply too far-fetched. If these ideas were harmless, then tolerance would be in order. But in many cases, false beliefs do more harm than good. When that’s the case, I should look for opportunities to discuss the ideas and propose alternatives. Tolerance means respecting that each person is going to believe whatever he or she wants to believe. I cannot change what another person believes, but I can exchange ideas and perspectives so that we can each come to new understandings. Everyone is free to believe what they want, but that doesn’t mean that simply believing a thing makes it right.
Having said all of that, I am going to lay out some of my fundamental beliefs. The realm of possibilities in my belief system remains wide, but my experience in life thus far has provided me with a basic framework for understanding the world and my place in it. One of my core beliefs is that the driving force in the Universe leads us toward connectedness, integration, and depth and broadness of experience. Our job is to try to live life as fully as possible, seeking joy and avoiding suffering, and to help others do the same. These ideas aren’t new or original in any sense, and the spirit of these ideas has appeared in some form in countless traditions throughout the history of human thought. But in addition to our constant misinterpretation and misunderstanding of each other, I believe we supplement and distort very basic ideas about life in ways that disconnect us from each other, limit ourselves, inhibit joy and increase suffering.
I call the life force in the Universe love. Many other people call it many other things. A few common names for it in Christianity might include Grace, Holy Spirit, or Jesus Christ. Some would simply call it compassion. I believe that the Universe as a whole is simply an expression of it. Love has no opposite because love is all there is. In our exercise of free will and choice, we often attempt to suppress or subvert love. Our efforts are simply misguided or perverted forms of love. Love is a river and sometimes we try to swim upstream because we think that’s where we’ll find love. But we’re already drowning in it. When we fail to serve as conduits for love, we cause suffering, which creates more opportunities for compassion. We make lots of mistakes. We hurt each other in horrible, shameful ways. People are left to experience dereliction, degradation, isolation, and painful, undignified deaths. But the drive to empathize with each other remains even when we think we don’t want it. Love will prevail because life is nothing more than love experiencing itself in an infinite variety of forms. Consciousness is the sleight-of-hand that convinces us that we are separate from the rest of the Universe, thus allowing us to experience a broader range of suffering and joy in life. We are drops in a river that have convinced ourselves we are separate and distinct from the rest of the flowing water. The spirit that animates us is the same spirit that animates all matter.
In this framework, the closest thing to sinfulness is self-centeredness. This is basically indulgence in the illusion of separateness and failure to participate fully in the joy, suffering, and compassion of life. This is not in opposition to love; it instead is the failure to use all of the love available. Self-centeredness leads people to stumble around blindly when they could move forward into life and embrace and experience love, integration, and connectedness. In addition to limiting our ability to experience a full range of what life and love offer, self-centeredness shuts out the compassion of others, and short-changes people who would otherwise receive love through us. We must constantly work to expand our capacity to give and receive love and compassion. In doing so, we both help others avoid suffering and help them expand their own capacities for love and compassion.
This understanding of life and our role in it doesn’t easily translate into our modern society, which so highly values individualism. But while I believe that individuality is an illusion created by consciousness, it’s still the basis for our interaction with the world. The practice of compassion seeks to break down the artificial distinctions that we create between each other, but corporate capitalism and the American dream rely heavily on them. Our economy is driven by self-interest at the cost of the well-being of others, and failures to exercise love and compassion are greatly rewarded with material wealth. Yet as our world continues to experience problems of incredible magnitude, we continue to have further opportunities to exercise and practice love and compassion with each other. Even if our species faces great calamity, people will continue to have chances to love and care for each other until we draw our final breaths. I’m up to the challenge. Are you?
It’s All about Believing…
at least, the bulk of the new essays I’ve posted is. “This I Believe” was submitted to an NPR segment of the same name, while “Beliefs” was written just to capture or sort out some thoughts that have been accumulating for the last few months. Enjoy!
Dr. Robin Meyers
Here is a speech by Dr. Robin Meyers, meant to show how absurd it is for *any* christian to support bush. I may not agree with you about whether or not christ was a savior, but that’s another issue. this one affects people here and now.
I’ve posted my two latest stories on doublemuse!! go check ’em out sometime.
and Merry Christmas, everyone!! I pondered yesterday what I might say to a jew, should I accidentally wish him/her a Merry Christmas, and be met with “I’m Jewish.”
“Well,” I would answer, “Tomorrow’s still Christmas—a national holiday—so it really doesn’t make much difference what your religious persuasions might be. Would you rather I told you have a shitty day tomorrow?”
How many of the people who celebrate Christmas actually are Christian, anyway? it’s really much more a materialist/capitalist holiday, anymore. I would think the Christians should be offended as the jews, ’cause “merry Christmas” is more atheist/pagan than Christian.
anyway, had a good scare this week. my computer started acting up on the night of the 23rd, and windows wouldn’t load. I was terrified, I hadn’t backed up my files and had a great deal of material that was never saved anywhere but on my laptop. after hours upon hours of trying to get the damned machine to work, I finally managed to get it running again. needless to say, I’ve made sure to back my work up again. no more of that bullshit!
When a person embraces true atheism, they embrace the belief that there is no God, and therefore the belief that anyone who believes in the existence of any sort of God must be wrong. It is important to discuss the issue of defining God, because for all of the possible things that God could be that do not exist—for example: if God is defined as a seven-headed beast on the dark side of the moon who controls the Universe, then I would certainly agree that God does not exist—there are an infinite number of ways to define a God that does exist.
My own understanding of God begins simply with the fact that I live and breathe from one day to the next, and the life that I have was not something that I could give to myself. As a result of the fact that my parents were living, even though they had not created themselves, I was born. None of us has anything without the life that came to us, a gift from fate, chance, random accident, destiny, the Universe, or “God, the life-giver.” And just saying that “God gave me this life” does not necessarily imply that God is intelligent or all-powerful or the God of Abraham or the Father of Jesus or some Great Judge who will condemn me for doing anything that makes the Pope feel uncomfortable or any of that stuff. It means simply this: it is a function of the universe to provide life to all that lives, whether it is strictly through physics and chemistry or by the results of plans made by some Grand Architect who exists outside of the universe (space and time). I live and breathe and eat food and fuck and have an intellect and a capacity for reason, and all of these things came to me from somewhere else, and I have at my disposal the entire world around me with which I can make choices about what I will do with my life. I personally define God as the agent responsible for giving me all that I have, including this Universe to play in, so NO ONE can say that God does not exist, because my existence verifies the fact that something caused me to exist (that infinite string of events leading up to my birth and the existence of the universe in which it occurred). I believe that God is loving and caring because love, which can be defined as simply ‘life energy’ came to me and made me a living being, and care, e.g. air to breathe and food to eat, etc., also are here as a result of those same processes that are responsible for my presence in the first place. Again, I reiterate that this has nothing to do with whether or not God is conscious or aware of what he has done or whether or not this thing was planned or impromptu, but the world and this Universe exist and I in it, so I am supremely confident in saying that I have been loved (given life) and cared for (given the means to sustain life) by some agent or force, even if that is simply chance or fate, and I call that agent or force God, and regardless of what I call it, it still exists.
Finally, to take it a little bit further, all that love (life energy—not only given to me in the form of the fact that I am alive and continue to live, but also in the willingness to live that comes to me when I enjoy life, often the result of other people around me loving me, agents carrying out God’s will that I be loved) and all that care (all those things that keep me going from one day to the next) are things that I can choose to deny or reject. Food is constantly available to me and I can choose to not do the work to get it, and other people can make the choice to prevent me from getting it. In both cases, God’s care is present but I am not receiving it as a result of human choices. All humans are capable of being agents of God’s will (i.e. loving and caring) or of being hindrances to God’s will (esp. self-centeredness that stands in the way of our ability to love ourselves and/or others)…we have the choice to either aid the Universe in giving and nurturing life or to prevent life from blooming and destroy life. The rest of life in the Universe seems to be capable of acting only in life-supporting courses of action, and even where some life is destroyed and/or harmed, it only serves the purpose of continuing life in some other form (lion kills deer, eats dear, lives for another day). Humans have the capacity to choose a course of action that harms/destroys life without adding to life in some other form. I firmly believe that it is a function of all life to be loving and caring and act in ways that add to life and allow it to flourish, and even humans have that drive (conscience), but we are also capable of subverting that drive in self-interest, thinking that by taking and hoarding and preventing life from flourishing we can control it and make it ours and not ever lose it. This is insanity—we fret about whether or not we will get what we need to survive in a world where more than we could ever need is available, but our desires tell us that we need more and we must escape the cycle of death and rebirth and gain immortality by assuming control of a universe that abhors internal controls. We are incredibly foolish in our failure to realize that we will die just as all other forms of life do, and our death will provide life elsewhere in the universe, both through our organic bodies that will decompose and rejoin the cycle of life and through the repercussions of our loving actions that have the potential to encourage (human) life to flourish long after we’ve gone, if we’ve done things during our time that are such testaments to love and care and good will. Our foolishness prevents us from recognizing that our absurd fear of dying (more self-centeredness: we try to place conditions on God’s love for us—”if God really loved me, he wouldn’t let me die/suffer”) cause much more death and destruction than any natural chain of events ever has. Our souls, I believe, are the agents that make the choice between love and self-centeredness, thus to follow a spiritual path allows us to live in loving, caring ways, instead of the self-centered ways marked by fear and anxiety that were more responsible for any pain and suffering we endured than God would’ve ever laid at our feet. The difference between gratitude and entitlement become clear: those with gratitude are content to be able to live another day and take advantage of all that they have; those who feel a sense of entitlement experience anger and resentment about the fact that they must die someday and because they do not have all that they want. When I am grateful for what I have, I am able to use it responsibly, but when I feel that I am entitled to have my desires met, I become chained to my desires and I suffer greatly.
I believe that we all must make an effort to understand the universe if we are going to try to live well in it. The words “God” and “Higher Power” are simply very convenient ways to convey the idea that the universe provides us with love and care. Our failure to recognize this fact is often the source of pain, suffering, and sorrow. Not everyone has to find a “God” to believe in. But if we all would make a point of recognizing that the universe supplies us with all that we need until we pass on, we will be much more capable of accepting the love and care that the universe provides. We will be much better at using that love and care responsibly to nourish ourselves, spiritually and materially. We will be much more willing to pass the rest along and use our lives to add to the strength of the love and care in the universe, instead of detracting from it.
Blind Leading the Blind
He also told them this parable: ‘Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.’ Luke 6:39-40
This parable is rather fitting for a student such as myself embarking on an experience of higher learning. A prerequisite to learning is the recognition of a need for learning, a recognition of ignorance. As this applies to my secular knowledge, so it applies to my spirituality. I will remain unable to give away that which I do not have. It is only through finding God’s will as it applies to my own life that I might help others to do the same with their own lives. As a young man, I am embarking on a journey. This journey represents my transition from a state of blindness to that of the ability to see, both through my secular studies in pursuit of a career and through my spiritual path in pursuit of finding peace with God.
My major area of study here at Bradley is English. I enjoy reading and writing, and find literature to be very helpful in my life. In my experiences with English teachers in the past, I have found a majority of them to be quite helpful and knowledgeable in this field. They were qualified in their positions. Though I thoroughly enjoy literature and composition, and even the discipline of grammar, I have found that I truly am rather ignorant, particularly relative to those teachers about whom I was speaking. By understanding my own lack of knowledge and expertise, I have provoked the desire to learn more. I further pursued this interest which has brought me here, to Bradley University, where I might shed some light on these places of darkness, or replace my ignorance with knowledge. It is only through this growth of knowledge that I will be able to teach others as I have been taught.
As it pertains to my spiritual life, this scripture is quite invaluable in establishing a proper sense of humility. There have been times in my life during which I was decidedly lacking in spirituality, yet I was so arrogant to assume that I might have something to offer to others in the way of leadership and ministry. As I was gradually given an awareness of my lacking spirituality, and still struggled with the notion that I might still have something to offer to others. I now invite a level of humility into my life, in the sense that I recognize my own blindness and refrain from attempting to lead others whom I might consider to be blind. It is quite a loss that I might “fall into a pit” as a result of my own blindness, but to lead another into that same pit is surely evil. I am grateful to have been made aware of my blindness that I might one day again be able to see. It is only through trusting in God and following His way that I will find such enlightenment, and perhaps some day be able to help another to do the same.
By analyzing this scripture, I am able to gain a sense of direction and a level of humility that will surely aid me in following the path. In my blindness, I must trust others’ direction until that time when I am able to see. When I have been so blessed as to be free of this blindness, it will be my honor and my duty to freely give to others that which was so freely given to me. Even with the best of intentions, though, the act of the blind leading the blind will do more harm than good. With that in mind, I will continue my journey towards vision and light, with God’s help.
Immortality is not an unreachable ideal. The idea of the infinite, the ineffable expanse of time and space having no beginning and no end, cannot be comprehended or understood by our minds. Our souls and spirits, however, testify in their very existence that the infinite exists. A soul is the very physical makeup of our being. The way our bodies are put together and work, the very miracle of life itself, is the definitive aspect of our souls: the unique process that has resulted in being. All of creation is of the same soul, each a unique member in the ultimate body of the universe. At any given moment, all of the matter in the universe is configured in a precise design incorporating all of being in its respective form, a part of and together with the rest of the universe. The very makeup and organization of the universe, of this galaxy, of the solar system, of this planet and all its inhabitants, this is the essence of the universal soul. The soul in time is the spirit; through the processes that alter the makeup of this universal soul from one moment to the next, the spirit is expressed. The human spirit is the makeup of all of the actions, behaviors, and course of life by which a human lives, from conception to death. The human soul is the physical body that was put together by the coalescing matter of the universal soul, the body through which the spirit expresses itself. The spirit and the soul are ever changing entities, yet the universal remains constant. There is no beginning, nor is there an end, to the infinite expanse of the universe. With each passing moment in time, each soul dies to make way for a new soul, the spirit being the catalyst for these changes. All matter passes through physical changes that have always been in motion, and the spirit is the character of these changes, relating the soul of one moment in time to another. The entire universe is in motion, giving way to the universe of tomorrow, of next week, of one year from now, on into infinite. The immortality of the universal soul is inevitable; the matter of the universe is indestructible and ever lasting. Though the composition and organization of the matter will never remain the same, all of the matter will forever be. Some attempts by conscious beings are attempts at holding a portion of the soul for eternity, but all are futile. Embalming and mummification slow the process of the reunion of matter to the soul of the Earth, but in the long run, all returns. As the Judeo-Christian precept states: “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. From whence we came we shall return. Immortality of the soul happens because all of the matter from which we are composed will forever remain a part of the universal whole. The human spirit reaches immortality in the fact that all that everything we do will forever have an effect on the universal spirit. Our spirit has been shaped by all of the thoughts and actions of those who have gone before us, just as all that we say, do, and think will forever affect all of those that live with us or follow us. Our spirits live on whenever anyone draws from our lives in theirs, and our soul lives on in all life that draws from the matter from which we have drawn and used as our own. Individuality and free will are examples of the uniqueness of our souls and spirits. No other being has ever had the same composition, physically or mentally, and no other will ever have the same. Our free will has been shaped for us, we are merely spectators given the illusion of participation. The universe was already in motion before we came into being, and will be in motion long after we are gone. To align our own will with the will of the universe is to attain harmony with the universe, and through that process all blessings come. The universe has expressed itself through us, and we will join the universe in immortality and life eternal.