Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way–Growth | Spotlight: Russian Circles

This post was originally on my other blog about exploring spirituality and philosophy through post-rock music. I share many of the posts from that blog when I write them, as they fit in well here too. This one is about Nietzsche’s philosophy as an inspiration for an energetic/emotional stance towards life, for instance. At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post on the best albums of 2021 in post-rock, so I recommend checking that out if you find the music in this post interesting.


The cool air of fall blew off the sea onto my face as I walked through my darkened neighborhood last night with Russian Circles’ live album, Live at Dunk! Fest, driving my steps. I was pondering what exactly to say for this post. Last week offered a great opportunity that I had awaited for years, seeing this power trio live for the first time. They’ve been my most listened to band for the last few years, since I got into them. I have listened to almost only their music since this concert was announced. Even though my expectations were somewhere up in the stratosphere near where the upper atmosphere borders space, these guys didn’t disappoint. It would not be an understatement for me to say that this concert and all the experiences around it made my year.

Between that and the fact that my last post about Russian Circles brought confused feedback from friends, finding it too difficult and dense, I thought it would be good to describe their dynamism again in a different way. If one band warrants that focus, they do.

When I was walking and pondering last night, the songs on the album while looking down on the dark, moonlit water of the sea brought back moments from the concert. The particular song to pull at me first was Afrika. As I said last time, “Guidance” is the album I find to be the band’s best, but Afrika is the point where the movement of the first 3 songs starts to chill a bit. However, in the concert, the rolling drums of this song grabbed me and made me feel like I was flying in a way that felt like a therapeutic moment for a lot of recent life. I remember thinking that I never realized just how much I needed this song.

How do you express a feeling like this without riffing on big ideas that would probably take too much background reading or explanation? Furthermore, how do you do it with a band that’s as sparse and cryptic, completely left up to interpretation, as Russian Circles? I’m going to do this by trying to delineate the atmosphere that resonates in this band’s songs and then try to analyze that down to it’s movement and energy as two focal points.

The overarching atmosphere that is in Russian Circles’ albums is a feeling of intense, crushing circumstances yet adapting and growing beyond them, shining above them. The already mentioned song, Afrika, is a great example of this. I spoke of this at length in my last post. For me, Russian Circles’ albums feel like a destruction that leads to new flourishing, creation, and hope. If I were to use another anchor point rather than Nietzsche, I would use the ideas of the Tower card and the Star card as ideas here – the destruction of an existing order opens the way for the hope of the new, a light in the darkness.

To expand or express this differently, I’d like to re-center on two focal points within that atmosphere. First, the movement of their music is a moving onward. Second, and in resonance with the first, the energy feels to be that of growth. To me, again in relation to ideas from tarot, this feels like the powerful abundant dynamism of “Empress energy”, basically an abundance of life force as flourishing in most every sense. Ironically, when thinking of this further, I realized that the name of one of Russian Circles’ albums is “Empros” which means forward or onward in Greek(and sounds a lot like Empress). So, to reiterate the previous concepts here and in the earlier post: their songs are a moving beyond that which presses down on us with a feeling of growing out of it or above it.

Funnily enough, when I saw them live, I waited for an autograph afterward, and I chatted with others waiting outside. One of the other fans was thrilled that they had played Youngblood from “Station” because the entire album had helped her through a dark chapter of her life. I couldn’t agree more. Songs like Micah, Ethel, Vorel, and others have had the exact same resonance for me precisely because of the dynamics I described above.

In trying to choose a single song to exemplify this, I thought of Mlàdek, especially because it is from that album, “Empros”. Also, it was the final song of their set when I saw them. This song speaks of that forward movement and that growing outward, in spite of the many challenges we face. Beyond that something about this song in particular makes me fully feel the image and quote from The Dhammapada I wanted to use to sum up everything I’ve said here about growing and shining within and beyond adverse circumstances:

As a sweet-smelling lotus
Pleasing to the heart
May grow in a heap of rubbish
Discarded along the highway,
So a disciple of the Fully Awakened One
Shines with wisdom
Amid the rubbish heap
Of blind, common people

The Dhammapada, Chapter 4: Flowers, lines 58-59; trans. – Fronsdal.

Studio version of Mlàdek:

Live album of RC at Dunk! Fest 2016. Mlàdek starts at roughly 53:00:

Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way — A New Cycle | Spotlight: Coastlands

This post was originally on my other blog about exploring spirituality and philosophy through post-rock music. I felt it must be shared, as the song I highlight and the experience I had in the described concert really resonate with the last post I just wrote. I recently wrote a post on the best albums of 2021 in post-rock, so I recommend checking that out if you find the music in this post interesting.


This last weekend, I had the pleasure of a short road trip to attend the Post-Rock and Friends Fest in Portland, OR. I had a chance to see a few bands live whom I’d been wanting to see for years. I’m going to write two posts about this regarding the two bands that really grabbed my heart.


One of my favorite post-rock albums of 2020 was Death by Coastlands. Here’s what I wrote on my 2020 best albums review:

Prepare to face the destruction of death in this album. Coastlands goes full post-metal and crushes you without falling into the standard doomy dynamics that post-metal can get stuck in. It’s epic, empowered, and gorgeous. This came out near my birthday, and it ended up being a perfect birthday present.

Retrospective | Best Post-Rock Albums of 2020

Returning to this album a couple years later for an intensive listen brought so many new layers of interpretation and experience. The last year has been a long slog through a cycle of death for me (in the sense of facing the end of the old). My sense of who I was has died. My sense of purpose has died. My ability to stand up again, walk forward, and move on has been challenged, time and again. In that time, tarot cards have been a meaningful self-care tool for solace, insight, and a sense of meaning when things have felt meaningless.

One of the key cards in the high arcana is the Death card. If you are unfamiliar with the tarot, you’ll possibly pause with some trepidation at that, but Death is more than a card that says someone around you will die. It’s a card about the end of an old cycle and a transition into a new one. Life is a vibrant unfolding of change, and a key component of the new coming forward in change is the old ending and disappearing. That’s what death is. As I put it in one of my favorite poems in the early days of my other blog:

Birth, birth, birth

           &

Death, death, death

—  In every moment

    With each heartbeat & breath

A Human Becoming

Coastlands’ album overflows with this energy of change, empowerment, flow, and growth through the death of the old. Every song has heavy, crushing power, but there are major key aspects as well where the lotus blossom grows in the detritus at the side of the road (image from the early passages of the Dhammapada – a chapter with overtones of living well in the face of the transitoriness of life, interestingly enough). The dirge has just as much of a joyous affirmation. It’s a recognition that one’s going over is a going under (Nietzschean riff – early Zarathustra).

I know that this post is dropping a lot of references, so let’s return to the band and the album concretely – seeing Coastlands live emphasized all of this I’m saying. I overflowed with energy and intensity, and I was even more impressed after the concert when speaking with the bassist and realizing that the band’s sound has changed and developed in the last couple albums as the lineup has changed, and new experimentation and growth is already shining through in the little that’s been revealed about their upcoming album. They are harnessing the strength of a new cycle – transitioning with change, the blockages that the last couple years have thrown at all of us in so many ways, and other various challenges of individual and group lives. They take these and shine. That’s the opportunity of the Death card.

Two versions of the Death card – Crowley’s from the Thoth Deck, which shows the cutting off of the old, and a more current reimagining of the Thoth deck, the Wayward Dark, by an artist in Portland (hence the choice here)

I want to showcase the final song of Death as a share here. The song “Marrow” starts with a sorrowful chorus of voices and doomy guitar riffs with discordant static from the amps. It grows into a heavy crescendo of guitar and drums. The old has been cut off, and we’re to the marrow deep in the bones of the broken. Then the song shifts to a more pensive, flowing guitar on top of the heaviness it pulls us along beyond that first stage into something more, something that survives. That’s the true power in that marrow*. It’s the potential to stand up again and make something new.


*One last spiritual geek aside on Marrow – I can’t help but be reminded of the story of Bodhidharma’s successor, Huike, who cut off his arm to gain Bodhidharma’s tutelage. Later on, Bodhidharma passed on his “marrow” in recognizing the transmission of his teaching to Huike.

Lojong Slogan Practice: #1 – Train in the Preliminaries

I’m taking up the challenge of going through Atisha’s 7 point training of the mind from Tibetan Buddhism and will attempt to write a breakdown for every one of the associated 59 slogans. I hope this will add depth and a movement towards effortlessness, sudden meditative non-meditation, and well, healing for myself and offer a breakdown of each slogan in the hope that it will help others as well.


I actually wrote on this slogan a while back when writing about struggling with suicidal thoughts. That post had some good insights, but I thought it worth returning to this slogan with the purpose of intentionally grouping and setting off the slogans and to pay this slogan the respect it deserves.

Honestly, that in itself is easily overlooked. I have five commentaries on the slogans, and many skip past this in a very brief description. Pema Chödrön doesn’t even address the four parts of the preliminaries, and Trungpa doesn’t speak much further to them than that and tying it to guru practice, but in that regard he is right in line with the scriptural master, Jamgön Kongtrül. Dzigar Kongtrül, on the other hand, as well as Norman Fischer, speak at length about the four preliminaries and the full reason why they are crucial for us to understand in moving forward in Lojong practice. They are the mindset needed to cultivate bodhicitta and walk the path of the bodhisattva.

This slogan is the first and only slogan associated with the first of the seven points of mind training.

The descriptions I’ve read for this slogan break down “the preliminaries” into four parts. I summarized them in my own words years ago and still have the post-it note I used at the time to do it. It’s on my fridge (and is pictured in the other post). I’m going to take this as a chance to revise and express them again in the hope of capturing more nuance and empowering them better in my own words for my own understanding.

  1. Human life is an especially rare and precious gift; a human life able to encounter and practice the dharma even more so
  2. We here must die, and we know not when
  3. All action, speech, and thought are entwined with results: all action, speech, and thought are karmic
  4. Samsaric existence is one of dukkha

I had intended to really tie aspects of the Dhammapada into the last of these, but I just did it with 2, 3, and 4. In reading through these and thinking about how to present them here, I decided I think it’s better to reorder them for a structure of mindset, and I hope this will become clear below.

I propose we approach these in the order of 4,3,1,2. The reason to start with 4 is that it represents the entry point to the entire Buddhist path. It’s a marker that points to the first of the Four Noble Truths, and thereby all of the Four Noble Truths. Some summaries of Buddhism emphasize the importance of this teaching, as it’s the first teaching the Buddha gave after attaining enlightenment, and it’s his diagnosis of the spiritual/existential problem of human life and the cure for said ailment – the eightfold path. In a sense, it’s his greatest moment of being a medicine Buddha, and it is accurate to claim that it is the summary of all of his teaching.

Furthermore, in recognizing and accepting the Four Noble Truths as a starting point, a practitioner should also be compelled to take refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha, which is key in moving forward with the mindset of the other preliminaries and the later slogans’ focus on bodhicitta. This preliminary is the starting point: one must recognize there is a spiritual problem to address in order to undertake the spiritual journey like the Buddha and become a bodhisattva oneself. Without this first step, the other preliminaries and, honestly, Buddhist practice in general don’t have much purpose behind them.

We should look at 3 next because it is another foundational basic of the Buddha’s teachings. The opening lines of the Dhammapada, not to mention most chapters throughout, emphasize that mind precede action (whether speech or bodily action) and that the results following the mind’s intentions match those intentions – either pure or impure. In other words, action, speech, and thought is karmic: it is a chain of cause and effect, and intention and view inform the cause and thereby influence the effect. In a sense, as karma is often expressed in metaphors like seeds and giving said seeds sustenance to grow through subsequent repeated action, we could summarize with “You reap what you sow”, but this also applies to thought patterns and worldviews – you strengthen them through repeated intention, thinking, doing, and speaking. This addition is what makes the Buddha’s teaching a bit more nuanced and profound. Hence, the concept of taming the mind through meditation and focus on ethics (i.e. pure intention and action) – meditation brings mental concentration, which strengthens the intentions and mindfulness to continually choose to enact pure thoughts and speech. Recognizing the laws of karma (cause and effect as described above) at play in our lives is another core realization needed to begin the Buddhist path. These first 2 reordered preliminaries are basic premises without which, one cannot even begin.

Now, let us look at the first of the preliminaries. This is the one I’ve struggled with the most in recent times. When struggling with dukkha in the most painful physical, mental, or emotional anguish, it’s hard to see life as a precious gift. However, the commentaries make it clear just how many animals are out there who are not human. This science article and graph makes it clear that humans are only a small part of the animal biomass on Earth. If one were to be any animal, it’s statistically unlikely to end up as a human (clearly, this plays along with ideas of reincarnation, but let’s just go with it for now). Furthermore, as we’ve already said, dukkha is the spiritual problem of existing as a sentient being. Human beings are the only sentient beings with the awareness and attributes to both realize this and work towards nibbana. Beyond that, one must be sound of mind as well for those attributes to truly apply. On top of this, it’s even more fortuitous to be born in a time where a buddha has realized and spread teachings on the dharma. Even more fortunate: to have access to said teachings – for instance, the Buddha lived roughly 2500 years ago, but his teachings only have become widespread and understood in the West in the last few decades. Even now, just being born in certain areas or cultural milieus might forever cut one off from the opportunity to encounter these teachings. As such, having the opportunity to take up the eightfold path and quench the suffering/dissatisfaction (dukkha) really is a precious gift that cannot be taken for granted. Being aware of this capability and opportunity as rare and precious should spark inspiration and gratitude.

Finally, let’s look at the second preliminary. It’s easy to lose sight of how another set of Buddhist teachings apply to our lives: the marks/seals of impermanence and anatta. I chose “we here must die” out of a favorite translation of some of the early lines of the Dhammapada (Fronsdal’s translation). I’ll quote them briefly again:

Hatred never ends through hatred.
By non-hate alone does it end.
This is an ancient truth.

Many do not realize that
We here must die.
For those who realize this,
Quarrels end.

The Dhammapada, trans. Fronsdal, (5-6)

There is no permanent, ongoing “I”. Our time is limited. Standard Buddhist thought grew in a culture with a deep metaphysical background of reincarnation, but even if we buy that, this particular life could end at any time. I could die before even finishing this post from some unforeseen accident.

If we really take this to heart, we can understand the importance of authenticity to our existential projects in Heidegger’s Being and Time. I use this as a contrast to emphasize the motivation. In Being and Time, Heidegger posits that Dasein (human beings) live in a state of distraction from our own mortality. We live with the reality of our finitude out of sight and out of mind. As such, we are always already fallen away from our true potential for authentic revelation of a fully human life, except when existential crises wake us up to the truth of our mortality and we work towards it with resolution. This stance ultimately riffs on other aspects of ancient Western philosophy, even just summarizing it now, I can hear echoes of Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and the Stoics in Heidegger’s position. The point in this summary: there is something to this. We don’t generally see that our life is always already a possibility that could shift to impossibility at any moment. We don’t live this way. To some extent, a full-hearted focus on mortality like that would make the mundane efforts of life inconvenient, but on a greater level, there is an anxiety of facing the big unknown of death in our self-distraction. This preliminary is telling us to remind ourselves again and again as groundwork for our spiritual efforts. Why? Like Dasein’s existential authenticity that comes through resolution towards death, embracing our impermanence, even the flux that there is no permanent self day to day, makes us see that all we have is this moment, so we must practice now. We must work on generating compassion and wisdom now. There is no other time, and there is no guarantee that we’ll have another chance to take up the precious opportunity we summarized above. Time is of the essence – the present moment is the only essence, and it’s empty.

If one focuses on these four preliminaries, the impact can be profound. It truly sets the mind in a different view. They act both as some key facts to set one’s perspective and some points of inspiration to put in effort. I had just started studying them when my dad died, and the fact that I had been focusing on these preliminaries for a few weeks beforehand helped me shift through that transition more gracefully than I would have otherwise. In writing this to better explain them all and inspire others, I find myself settling into the mental framework again for moving along to the next point of mind training. I hope you will come along with me.


May this summary explain why the four preliminaries are a crucial first step in training the mind and generating bodhicitta. May it inspire others to research this practice as well (I’ve linked books by different authors on this text above in the initial paragraphs).

Gassho!

Philosophy Riffing | Ethics cont. – evil is mistaken choice, a challenge to that, virtue ethics and friendship/relationships, and choosing a partner

This was another meandering exploration of this topic with a payoff in the particular of our connections to others and how they should enhance our excellence. I take a lot of time in the first half of exploring the Socratic position on evil and my problems with it. There are also examples of the Buddha prior to giving the sermon on the Four Noble Truths and some further commentary on the bodhisattva ideals and goodness as well.

An aside: I wanted to include this brief poem by Yung Pueblo somewhere along the line, but I didn’t remember to place it anywhere in the discussion. Adding it here for it’s brief, beautiful resonance with the second half:

it is not love
if all they want
from you
is to fulfill
their expectations

Yung Pueblo, Inward, p. 12

I just found this other great poem when looking through as well.

when passion
and attachment
come together,
they are often
confused for love

Yung Pueblo, Inward, p. 24

And as promised, here is the link to the previous post I reference in the second half: Love in Romantic Relationships: Cultivating Self and Other through Friendship.

Philosophy Riffing | Ethics – excellence, ethics vs. morality, good and evil, and a spiritual expansion

This was a meandering recording that pulled up a lot of details I didn’t originally have in mind and left many others unsaid that I had originally intended. May come back with a part 2 soon. I hope this gives others many things to ponder or at least some ideas/sources for them to go look at further. Feel free to ask questions in comments.

Note: At about an hour and 10 minutes, I make a mistake with Carl Schmitt. He described the distinction that grounds the concept of the political as the friend-enemy distinction.

Philosophy Riffing | Heartbreak | Lack of anger, Chöd, the Hermit, Truth, and Kindness

This recording was about as much a pensive self-care/processing exploration as any kind of philosophical analysis, but there are some good ponderings in here without many real answers. I hope that it will be of value to others who are also stumbling along the Way of the Hermit/Sage.

Living in the Light of Death

In a few days, it will be a year since my dad died. It’s been a very interesting and ponderous year. I’m reminded of the first book I read about existentialism, which explained the idea of an existential crisis in relation to Heidegger’s Being and Time as an event bringing a heightened awareness to our mortality in such a way that the experience of life is fundamentally altered for a period. That’s what this has been.

Of course, I have meditated on change at length prior to this. It’s evident in a large number of the posts here over the last few years, but being confronted with the situation of having to personally sort out one’s own story and relationship with mortality is different than cerebrally breaking down the sweeping, subtle, and slow changes of matter, mind, and heart.

Ironically enough, recently, I’ve been reading chapters in a meditation manual about meditating on change and death, and the writer/teacher emphasizes two phases to the sessions — one for thinking on ideas or images about change/death and the other to let the emotional depth of meaning really sink in and be understood, not just conceptually. This experience has been something like the second part of that process. For the last few years, I could have quoted on a whim a passage that struck me in the first translation of The Dhammapada that I read: “All states are without self*”, but what does that mean when a life ends? I’ve been slowly piecing that together over time.

I dream of him often. In the last few weeks, I can think of a time when he appeared in our lives again — a Doppelgänger, and I was the only one in my dream who remembered he had died and didn’t trust this imposter, and yet, I didn’t want to inflict loss on my family again by convincing them of the truth. In another, he wandered around a former city I lived in with me, but he had some sort of handicap and lacked the wit and mental acuity he had in life. I think I was imagining what his survival might have meant as a tradeoff, and it was tragic in other ways — “he” was still gone, but then again, all states are without self. Finally, I had a dream where he was a cold, heartless man, driven by greed. He was an ambitious entrepreneur, somewhat like the small business owner from my childhood but fully consumed by it as his only pursuit. He seemed dead to me in his cold grimace and methodical drive. This made me realize that there are other ways we describe people as dead — when their emotions seem to lack the humaneness of connection, of the passion and compassion of a beating heart, thumping out a song with the lives of others, always already around us. Just as change is a constant and identity is an abstraction, rather than an essence (“All states are without self”), we are always already born into a universe, billions of years old, on a small rock populated with other humans — as well as all their culture, history, language, minds, and hearts…

My dad in life was a warm man, very much unlike the cold, driven, hyper-capitalist in my last dream, but at this point, I don’t know how much more there is left of him other than the stories of those who remain. I hope to still learn from him like this in dreams and musings, and I hope that these thoughts of him continue to bring insights into what it means to live and how death is related to that living presence in this world. I can’t claim to understand what the process of life is about, as I’m convinced there isn’t some permanent essence, a soul, behind it, but going through all this has sharpened the sense of mystery to existence. In many ways everything has felt just as hazy and ethereal as a dream, and sometimes, I feel that I’m not sure if I’m dreaming of a butterfly or if I’m the butterfly dreaming of Z, so to speak, but I do as that meditation teacher suggests: rest in the looking — look in the resting. What else is there to do? I’m already in the thick of the mystery and there’s no way out. There’s only the ongoing path of being on the way.


A much more succinct passage from The Dhammapada’s opening chapter could get at the heart of all this much more quickly:

Hatred never ends through hatred.
By non-hate alone does it end.**
This is an ancient truth.

Many do not realize that
We here must die.
For those who realize this,
Quarrels end.
– Chapter 1, (5-6), trans. Fronsdal

Maybe we’re better served by a statement about the nature of that mystery from The Heart Sutra:

‘Gate gate, paragate, parasangate, bodhi svaha.’

– Gone, gone, beyond gone, completely beyond gone, great awakening.***


May this provide comfort and camaraderie to others who experience the mystery of being.

Gassho!

*The point of this quote is that everything lacks essence. Another way I say this, riffing on Buddhism, is: “All composite things are impermanent, and all things are composites.” Our greatest spiritual battle is overcoming an unreflective, ego-protective sense in which we posit some permanent essence behind us, an unchanging self. I take this quote to mean that everything lacks essence and that “the self” is an emergent process, not a set entity. Here are a couple other translations of this passage to compare:

“All things in the world are insubstantial.” – trans. Ananda Maitreya

“All things are not-self.” – trans. Gil Fronsdal

The second translation is particularly exciting because one could possibly see the way that the Prajna Paramita tradition of emptiness (shunyata) is already indicated in these pithy remarks, and this particular quote also points to interdependence — if all things are not encompassed as a static entity in and of themselves, they’re in relationship with everything.

**Most translations say “love” or “loving-kindness” here instead of “non-hate”, and while those are more poetic, I prefer this more literal translation. The word has a negative prefix on hate, meaning the negation of hate, not another word that means the opposite. Negation in language can mean a returning to zero, so to speak, and I think that fits the meditation practice and ideas in the early texts better rather than telling people to react in the opposite. One must let go of the clinging and reactivity that gives rise to hatred. Only then can loving-kindness be cultivated as a new relationship with the world.

*** I pieced this together from reading several commentaries and translations.

Giving Heart (Part 2)

Our worries may zoom around the state of the world. “What happens if the economy plummets? If the ozone layer keeps decreasing? If we have more anthrax attacks? If terrorists take over the country? If we lose our civil liberties fighting terrorism?” Here, our creative writing ability leads to fantastic scenarios that may or may not happen, but regardless, we manage to work ourselves into a state of unprecedented despair. This, in turn, often leads to raging anger at the powers that be or alternatively, to apathy, simply thinking that since everything is rotten, there’s no use doing anything. In either case, we’re so gloomy that we neglect to act constructively in ways that remedy difficulties and create goodness.

Thubten Chodron, Taming the Mind, page 129


In Giving Heart (Part 1), I wrote about the importance of taking up your political privilege to vote for the candidate who will protect life through fighting climate change, social injustice, and other inequities. I argued that this is important and an act of affirmation rather than one of cynicism. This is how to get beyond thinking in terms of lesser evils.

Today is election day in the US. If you’re reading this, go back to the first entry and think about it. Then, go vote. This is important. You’re extremely lucky to live in a time and society in which you have the privilege to vote. Go do so with the bigger picture in mind.

However, in this post, I’m transitioning to give heart from the perspective of the quote above as promised in the last post; this post will be about how to “create goodness” in the interactions of your life to move beyond hoping for abstract ideals and leaders to provide the world you want to live in. You can do your own part.

You are always here, already in a world with other people and other life. What can you do to be at harmony with them and show them kindness, even in the smallest interactions? This is the question that should animate your interactions. However, it doesn’t mean being a pushover. Sometimes, the kindest possible thing is showing someone else how they are being selfish or harmful. Nor does it mean intellectually analyzing every choice you make; rather, respond to life holistically, trying to do so with openness and compassion. Try practicing that, and you’ll find your place in the unity that the poem points out: radiating wisdom and justice in your life rather than being lost in the deluded dreams of waiting for it to be realized in some system or political ideology.

As really analyzing this topic would take a lot more discussion, I’ll leave you with that question — “What can you do to be at harmony with the other people and other life you live with, with the universe, and show them kindness, even in the smallest interactions?” —  to point you along your own way, and I’ll add a few quotes from various sources to inspire you in your engaged practice.

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From the Tao Te Ching (Trans. Red Pine)

Thus the rule of the sage
empties the mind
but fills the stomach
weakens the will
but strengthens the bones

This excerpt from Verse 3 inspires me, always. Ancient commentators take the full stomach as sated desires – ruling people in such a way that they aren’t driven by yearning that leads them to steal, harm, and trample. There is definitely validity to this, but isn’t this so to a certain extent because the sage makes sure that others are fed and healthy? Isn’t the most simple compassion a taking care of others’ well-being in the most basic ways? Not that I’m exhorting you to sacrifice yourself, enable others, or only care about creature comforts, but there is a basic concern that could extend as wisdom through our engagement with others.

From the Dhammapada (Trans. Easwaran)

For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time:
hatred ceases by love. This is an unalterable law.

There are those who forget that death will come to all.
For those who remember, quarrels come to an end. (Verses 5 and 6)

These lines come in the first chapter after twinned verses which explain that selfish thoughts and actions lead to suffering whereas selfless actions lead to joy. These lines both sum up the point and show that our time in life is short — there’s no time to lose in beginning to shape our selfless path of compassion right now.

Avoid all evil, cultivate the good, purify your mind: this sums up the teaching of the Buddhas. (Verse 183)

This summation is cryptic in its advice but when remembered in line with cultivating the path of selflessness, it becomes succinct and practical.

From Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (Trans. Robin Hard)

8.27. We have three relationships: the first to the vessel that encloses us, the second to the divine cause, the source of all that befalls every being, and the third to those who live alongside us.

This is key to all of these perspectives, I believe. The Buddha’s story is not one where asceticism is the answer: rather he reaches enlightenment after realizing that eating and nourishing his body is important too. Lao Tzu points out how feeding the bodies of all is important for the ruler. Last, Marcus Aurelius points out that we have to take care of ourselves, recognize our place in the big picture of what is, and realize that there are other people with whom we coexist — another relationship that deserves our care. All three of these sources would reverberate with this last set of reminders, and we might even question, to go very Buddhist, where the differences in these relationships arise. There may just be the one relationship of taking care, plain and simple.


May this give you heart to bring compassionate engagement to yourself, others, and life/the Universe as a whole.

Gassho!

Ayn Randian Dreams (Nightmares?) — A Philosophical Mosaic

I saw a clip–
A grey, hazy time capsule,
Chronicling our past
Yet so present…
Still a specter
Which dominates our minds

Ayn Rand on Johnny Carson???
She expounds,
In a gratingly brittle voice:
The virtue of greed
The reason in selfishness
Only a system
In which
Every man pursues
His own “Reason”
Is one
In which
Humanity can be
Actualized
Capitalism is this system?
Surely a jest!
Each man is not free
Nor guided by his reason
In our system
Of markets
Of money
Of subjugation
–All for profit…

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She says at the outset:

Man’s proper ethics, or morality, is a morality of rational self-interest. Which means that every man has a right to exist for his own sake, and he must not sacrifice himself to others or sacrifice others to himself (brief pause) that the achievement of his own rational happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life. As a consequence of that, the only system, the only political system, that expresses this morality is the system of laissez-faire capitalism, by which I mean full, unregulated, uncontrolled capitalism, a system based on the recognition of rights, including property rights…

Yet capitalism seeks
To subvert fellow men
Sacrificing others to one’s reason
Readily
Often
Systemically
In the name of Profit,
The almighty God
–The only self-interest
Which receives worship,
The singular idol
Sitting atop
The altar of industry
Do you not believe me?
The annals of history
Surely show
Such systemic sacrifice of others
Upon the altar of Profit

The “Reason” of true Philosophers
Would not aim at this
As Wisdom, the Good, or Love
Those are the true aims
Of “Reason”;
Not this solipsistically myopic,
Self-serving materialism
Should we see this
As worthy successor
To profound analyses of eudaemonia?
I laugh
What other response is fitting?
As Nietzsche once said:
“Not with anger, rather with laughter does one kill.” *

What of the “Reason” of the Stoics?
Would they not scoff as well?
Laughing at how poorly,
How childishly,
You, lady with delusions of grandeur,
Have misunderstood
The entire Universe
And our place in it
Those who vouch
For other such
Individualistic notions
Of Truth and Wisdom
Are equally lost.
No authentic seekers of Truth…
Merely idealistic demagogues
Preaching greed from soapboxes,
Rather than providing wisdom
Or anything of substance.
They are lost
Yet declare it insight
Seeing shadows on the wall
As deep, whole, and true
Rather than with the wise sight
That has seen the sun
The sight that sees them
As empty figures


The immature are their own enemies, doing selfish deeds which will bring them sorrow. That deed is selfish which brings remorse and suffering in its wake. But good is that deed which brings no remorse, only happiness in its wake.

Sweet are selfish deeds to the immature until they see the results; when they see the results, they suffer. Even if they fast month after month, eating with only the tip of a blade of grass, they are not worth a sixteenth part of one who truly understands dharma.

As fresh milk needs time to curdle, a selfish deed takes time to bring sorrow in its wake. Like fire smoldering under the ashes, slowly does it burn the immature.

Even if they pick up a little knowledge, the immature misuse it and break their heads instead of benefitting from it.

The immature go after false prestige – precedence of fellow monks, power in the monasteries, and praise from all. “Listen, monks and householders, I can do this; I can do that. I am right and you are wrong.” Thus their pride and passion increase.

Choose the path that leads to nirvana; avoid the road to profit and pleasure. Remember this always, O disciples of the Buddha, and strive always for wisdom.  — The Dhammapada; Chapter 5, Lines 66-75


A human being is a part of the whole called by us “the universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few person nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.  — Albert Einstein, found in The Places that Scare You by Pema Chödrön

May this bring you to think differently about yourself and your place in society and the universe. May it bring you to desire authentic wisdom and reason. May it inspire you to the love of wisdom (philosophy) and lead you down the path of many questions and insights.
Gassho!

*”Nicht durch Zorn sondern durch Lachen tödtet man.” — Nietzsche, Also sprach Zarathustra; Vom Lesen und Schreiben