The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Spirituality ... Zen ...

Was pondering Buber’s I and Thou today at work, and had recently listened to TeachCo lectures on nominalism vs realism in the Middle Ages, along with the Christian mystical tradition of the Middle Ages. The lecturer has a very interesting classification system for mystics — but of course, are those categories “real” or nominal? Probably nominal, i.e. “in name only”. The lecturer himself admits that his classifications are ad hoc, many other academics would disagree.

But as to what is real, what is fundamental: Buber appreciates that existence / being, as we know it, requires relationship, and relationship requires some level of dualism. To talk of “oneness”, of monism, is to talk of an abstraction. Perhaps our minds, tuned as they are to abstractions, can conceive of one-ness in some weak, distant fashion (see thru a glass darkly).

But our lives and everything we know of in the universe lives in relation to something else, we live in a sea of duality. If there is an “edge of the universe”, if the universe is like a ring of connected things, and then we try to think about what lies beyond that ring, then we think of nothing but an abstraction — the mind’s own construct.  The “one”, the monism, is not a part of our lives, of the ring of being.

Didn’t the Buddha teach not to get too concerned about that which is not part of our lives, but only part of our mental construction? Don’t modern Zen teachers warn over and over again against the abstract constructions of “the mind” ? And yet, if they don’t like “mind”, then isn’t it a bit ironic on how Buddhists spend so much mental energy seeking and agonizing over “the one”? Isn’t “the one” something that exists mostly in the mind, something only known thru the mind with its many senses and “meta-senses”?

Yes, we all would like to think that there is some real “oneness” that gives all of us diverse individual things some deep-rooted commonality.  This theoretically would encourage a life that we would rather have, one of peace, cooperation, co-ordination. But in reality, we can only find such oneness in our mental constructs.

If that is so, then why do Buddhists then spend so much energy attacking mental constructs?

Perhaps you can’t have it both ways – you can’t have “the one” without abstract mental constructs and a “mind” to create those constructs. But most western Buddhists don’t seem to have received that memo yet.

Buddha people can argue that mystical experience is just as valid a path to knowing oneness as abstract mental construction. Or even more valid !  But the argument then becomes somewhat petty, you start arguing about nominal differences between two close cousins within the “contemplation” family. If there is a “one-ness” found somewhere in our brain-space, why shouldn’t it manifest in several ways, including both meditation and deep thought (as well as artistic experience and other ways).

I believe that Buddhism (and other related eastern and modern western spiritual philosophies – perhaps including Centering Prayer !!) should embrace a broader view of “contemplation”, one that includes BOTH mystical and abstract mental activity, accessed by both meditation and critical-logical thinking. (And art and being with nature, as George would have it).

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:54 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, February 23, 2021
Brain / Mind ... Psychology ... Society ... Spirituality ...

OK, let’s get a bit risque and explore the links between human sexual experience and transcendent meditation states / mystical experience. That’s a topic that I don’t see discussed very much, but I believe that it is really important for a better understanding of both human sexuality and meditation states / mystical experience, and their ties to the neuro-structures and processes of the brain. And also in relating all of that back to the ongoing speculations regarding trans-scientific / metaphysical conceptions of “deep reality”.

[Well, actually there is a recent book that relates to this topic called “Transcendent Sex” by psychologist Jenny Wade. Also, an on-line PhD thesis says

That sexuality and spirituality are related has received extensive philosophical and theoretical attention from various disciplines (e.g., Aging and Development—Ammerman, 1990; Medicine-Anderson & Morgan, 1994; Christian Theology—Bilotta, 1981; Chavez-Garcia & Helminiak, 1985; Dychtwald, 1979; Feuerstein, 1989; Grenz, 1990; Moore, 1980; Nelson, 1981, 1983; Sex Therapy–Mayo, 1987; Schnarch, 1991; Psychology-Francoeur, 1992; May, 1982; Moore, 1994).

Well, I sure wasn’t aware of that!]

When we get into the arena of eroticism, we need to define some ground rules. And not only because of my desire to maintain decorum and avoid uncomfortable moments, not only from the fear of “getting too personal” and getting lost in taboo.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:08 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 19, 2020
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

What will be the long-term effects of COVID on the nations of the world? Aside from the price in lives and suffering, it will obviously sap a lot of economic wealth from most of the nations of the world. How will that change the course of history in coming years?

Europe, USA — big hit, big deficits

Russia — probably also got pulled down, will lose economic and hopefully military power

Third world — set back by many years

Asian nations — not as bad as the west, but still many costs

China — unfortunately, they got out quickest and recovered the soonest. SO, it appears possible that China’s strength and position in the world will be strengthened relative to the US, Europe and fellow Asian nations; it will gain more military strength and be even more dangerous and domineering.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:16 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Monday, November 30, 2020
Personal Reflections ... Photo ... Society ...

And this is how a legend dies . . . in the lonely silence of abandonment.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:39 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Friday, November 20, 2020
Current Affairs ... Public Policy ... Society ...

I haven’t said much about the current nationwide discussion on race that arose in the wake of the George Floyd killing. I did post a recent blog on Robin DiAngelo’s critique of white fragility, given that her book has taken on an enlarged role in this discussion of late. So I am now going to say a few more things — but mainly about Professor John McWhorter’s reaction to DiAngelo. To me, McWhorter maps out a road to reason, something quite welcome in these not-very-well-reasoned times.

I first became interested in American racial issues as a senior in high school, 2 years after the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I have written on the matter of racial relations a fair amount in this blog. I can’t say that I’ve devoted my life to social justice, but I did get involved with a handful of related organizations and causes over the past 40 years. Yes, you can find various traces of white fragility and privilege and implicit bias in me. I’m not perfect, I don’t pretend to be. But I can say that I am concerned, and have been for a long time.

To be honest, I haven’t been all that interested in writings and literature by white authors about “the white problem” regarding race. I have listened a bit to voices like TaNeshi Coates and more recently, Ibram X. Kendi; but as to Robin DiAngelo, I scarcely knew who she was until just a few weeks ago. And that was only because I was reading a reaction to her writings by a black author — the indomitable John McWhorter.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:41 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

I’m glad to see that Joe Biden won the election and will be the next President, come late January. I’m not so sure that there weren’t any significant voter irregularities or fraud in this election, given all of the mail-in ballots and new rules and procedures that were quickly implemented in the wake of the COVID pandemic. But I doubt if they will make a difference, despite all of Mr. Trump’s efforts in court (and I agree that Trump and the GOP should get its day in court). It’s a good sign so far that Trump doesn’t appear to be stirring up white nationalist groups in preparation for a violent putch. And it doesn’t look as if GOP state legislators have the appetite for violating long tradition and sending a pro-Trump delegation to the Electoral College in states where Biden won, however narrowly. The GOP may not yet be done with Donald Trump (unfortunately), but for now Trump is a sinking ship; even if most of the rats on board are sitting tight for now, none of the shore-side rats are jumping on.

But still, the Democrats didn’t do very well overall on Election Day. There have been many articles about this over the past few weeks (here’s a good one), citing disappointing Senate race results, loss of seats in the House, GOP gains with minority voters, and unfavorable net results on the state legislature and state governor levels.

My one contribution to this is a quick and dirty summary of how the Electoral College map changed for both parties as a result of the 2016 and 2020 elections. Here is my summation:  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:52 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, October 31, 2020
Personal Reflections ...

Just a few thoughts on old age. Here’s where I am — and I’m just getting started! (going for the big 68 soon).

Every day when you get up, you take stock of the situation —

Your time left in this life is limited; the end is not that far out there

You have scraps and bits of broken dreams from younger days lying all around you.

You have a handful of small accomplishments, but they seem tiny and insignificant compared to the debris of past imaginings.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:10 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, October 16, 2020
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Public Policy ...

OK, this is about racism; but as with Robin DiAngelo, I am going to be talking to my fellow white Euro-heritage Americans. However, contra Robin, I am going to focus mainly on the “woke”, including Ms. DiAngelo herself. And less-so on the elite-but-not-yet-woke and the not-so-elite anti-woke, i.e. those who Robin DiAngelo would lecture to.

IMHO, it’s time for progressive-minded whites who worry about privilege and “fragility” (as per DiAngelo’s book) to stop the fashionable accusations and the hairshirt exercises, and get serious about the brass tacks of a public policy response to the historic injustices that have been done to African Americans on American soil since 1619. (But no, I’m not buying into the NY Times 1619 Project and its contention the primary inspiration for the British colonization of North America and the following independence of the United States was the preservation and expansion of African slavery – although slavery no doubt had some part in the thoughts and actions of the founding fathers. Even if 1619 is not what America is all about, which I believe, it certainly is the year when African slaves were first brought to American soil by the British – and isn’t that bad enough, in and of itself? Yes, it is bad — but that doesn’t mean that America is irreparably bad and beyond future improvement).

I’m tired of reading CNN articles or hearing progressive white scholars say “Liberal cities such as Minneapolis, and the liberals living within them,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:50 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, October 4, 2020
Personal Reflections ... Photo ... Zen ...

When I was a kid, I hated centipedes, just like most everyone else. Almost all bugs are creepy — ok, so we give lady bugs a pass, and butterflies can be beautiful. But most bugs have odd shapes and all sorts of crazy and vaguely threatening arrangements of legs and tentacles and body plates, they have weird eyes and stingers and other ugly protrusions. They seem like feelingless robots, as they fly with their buzzing sound or dart around on the ground. Centipedes take “buggyness” to the next level.

But a guy at my zendo once told me that centipedes are a good way to practice the Buddhist notion of patiently respecting all life forms, even insects. You’d have to be a really devoted Buddhist to ignore a poisonous spider or to “gently” remove it. And roaches are so overwhelming; they truly push you to the “me or them” point of survival. But as to the average house centipede . . . well, no doubt that centipedes are terribly ugly and creepy. You usually see one darting across the floor or up a wall, and your instantaneous mental instinct is to drop everything else and plot an “intercept vector” in your head, and then kill the dang thing, right now!

But my Buddhist friend told me that most house centipedes are not a threat to humans. They try to stay away from people, and  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:32 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, September 20, 2020
Current Affairs ... Public Policy ... Science ...

Back in November, Scientific American ran an article about a computer model that a research team at Tufts University used to simulate and research the economic processes that drive the inequalities in income and wealth of individuals, families and households in modern industrialized nations having capitalist market economies. The article was written by Prof. Bruce Boghosian, one of the leaders of this team.

By studying the results from this model after running it with a variety of hypothetical and historical data inputs, the researchers found that concentration of wealth is mostly inevitable in modern market-oriented nations. However, wealth redistribution mechanisms can mitigate the severity of concentration and prevent extreme oligarchy. A “redistribution mechanism” is something like Robin Hood; it takes from the rich and gives to the poor (or intends to, but is often misused by those who aren’t poor).

An example would be the progressive tax system, whereby the rich are subject to higher taxes on income, while the poor pay less (or nothing). The poor also benefit more than the rich from government spending on subsidized housing, subsidized health care (e.g. Medicaid), low-income tax credit cash refunds, etc. Some nations have more generous redistribution mechanisms while others have more stingy ones (redistribution is usually the province of the government, although voluntary charity and philanthropy can also have a redistribution effect). Obviously, American’s “social safety net” has been getting more and more stingy in recent decades.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:20 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
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