synthetic zero


October 26, 2005

I was thinking today of a story an American who had lived in Nepal and studied Tibetan Buddhism there once told me.  He had gone to visit a lama who was revered but who lived in an extremely remote place.  He managed to make it up there, but just before he got to the lama he came across a fellow in a field who, when he saw this big white American, screamed and ran away from him in utter terror.

Puzzled, the American continued on and managed to reach the lama and introduced himself.  He told the lama the story of the man who ran away from him in the field.  The lama said that the man had been practicing "chod", which is a Tibetan Buddhist ritual which is often practiced in frightening locations; in this case, in a charnel ground --- a way of coming to terms with death and impermanence, visualizing death and other ordinarily frightening things (I won't go into details --- I only know of this from reading about it and hearing stories).  In any event, the lama said that the practitioner was evidently frightened out of his wits because he thought the American appearing out of nowhere was an actual demon.

But, the lama continued, what that man didn't realize was that demons were, in fact, just parts of himself.

Meanwhile, my Canadian friend Asha writes this:

Leave your name and:
1. I'll respond with something random about you.
2. I'll tell you what song/movie reminds me of you.
3. I'll pick a dish I would prepare for you.
4. I'll say something that only makes sense to you and me.
5. I'll tell you my first/clearest memory of you.
6. I'll tell you what animal you remind me of.
7. I'll ask you something that I've always wondered about you. Answer the question in a comment.
8. If I do this for you, you must post this on your journal.

So here are her answers for me:

1. You want to find a Canadian girl to marry... [ed note: this is a running joke between us having to do with Canadian citizenship]
2. Michelle (The Beatles)- because we had it in our heads at the same time... even though we were really far away from each other
3. Something vegetarian... perhaps my killer chili!
4. A thousand waterpiks...
5. You telling me your dad used to play poker with Kerouac...
6. A panda... because they're Asian... =D Tasty!
7. What's up that hand thing you do all the time? You know what I'm talking about...

October 16, 2005

In the final analysis, a drawing simply is no longer a drawing, no matter how self-sufficient its execution may be. It is a symbol, and the more profoundly the imaginary lines of projection meet higher dimensions, the better.

-Paul Klee

I feel this very strongly.

October 10, 2005

My time of being absurdly busy is coming to an end. I have many, many things to write about, but I'll start with some thoughts on spirituality and certainty.

I wrote this in response to something my friend Mark Harms wrote: "I don't think the religious impulse generally is rooted in the spirit of open-ended inquiry."

I will disagree with this. I think that, of course, this is how religion has evolved in the West, but I don't think this is something which is particular to the religious impulse per se, but simply an impulse that occurs in many different contexts (i.e., the desire for certainty occurs in many fields, and in religion in the West, in particular, it has become central, to the point that the word "faith" is used interchangeably with "religion" --- a laughable development in my view.)

The spiritual impulse, I believe, is much more centrally based on an intuition or feeling having to do with relating to a larger context than what appears to immediately surround us. That is to say, I believe this is the core or root of the religious impulse --- the interest in placing oneself in the middle of a vast scope of possible contexts. Thus I would contend that environmentalism is triggered by a similar impulse --- and there are many environmentalists, for example, who have developed an almost spiritual sense of their connection to nature ("Gaia", etc.) --- not entirely dissimilar to the sense of many nature religions (shamanic traditions, etc.)

Human beings, I believe, somewhat separately, have a desire for certainty; in the old days, for example, we applied this to our political organization in the form of feudal relationships passed on via heriditary inheritance, combined with vesting absolute or near-absolute power in monarchs and the aristocracy --- such a scheme leaves little room for ambiguity but it also does not allow for organized political opposition. A similar desire for certainty can be seen operating in, say, the Nazi state, or the former Soviet Union, etc., in situations which were either wholly or primarily secular. Similarly, many people adhere to irrationally certain beliefs in many areas --- and in fact scientists themselves, despite their training, often have been known to cling to theories long after the evidence against them has mounted to the ceiling --- I think of global warming, or plate tectonics, as examples. People are far less open to modifying their views than they ought to be.

In fact, prior to the reemergence of the scientific approach in the Renaissance, irrational and poorly-conceived ideas about the ordinary physical world were mixed with superstition and religious belief in a strange mixture which spanned both the secular and religious domain. It was only in the West, however, that the peculiar compromise was reached in which science was relegated the study of the "material world" and religious dogma was assigned, like a fiefdom, matters of spiritual significance; this was a compromise that Descartes came up with in order to somehow create a detente between the two. This division survives to this day, where even scientifically-trained people tend to think of the world as divided into these two domains: areas which science cannot go, and areas where it can.

But this division is historical and artificial. There is no reason whatsoever why the spirit of free inquiry cannot be applied to both "spiritual" and "secular" matters --- in fact, the boundary is really rather artificial and arbitrary. In Buddhism, for example (while many Buddhists also harbor superstitious beliefs --- they are not generally regarded as dogma), the method of personal spiritual development is very much tied to free inquiry, to the point that the method itself (meditation, etc.) in fact mandates a certain incisive skepticism about pretty much everything, even Buddhism itself, eventually (although the latter tends not to come into play until one gets rather far along, it is implicit throughout.)

October 1, 2005

Giving up, while staying aware, is the way to heaven.