Friday, April 30, 2010

Joy of art

Children naturally do art. Put paper and drawing materials in front of them and they start drawing with complete abandon. For a whole summer I met with a group of friends at a community cafe to support it from going out of business. Our group did art together. We had so much fun. People passing by saw us with our art supplies and colorful drawings. More customers came in! Now-a-days, the cafe is doing well. But equally important was the wonderful experience of drawing together -- talking freely about our lives while we drew all kinds of images in a rainbow of colors.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

God had to make "not-God"

I hear from Jewish and Islamic perspectives that God is infinite and has to create; even create his negation – the not-God – the realm of illusions or appearances which we know so well. Seyyed Hossein Nasr said it so well when he wrote: "Since the One God is Infinite and Absolute as well as the Infinitely Good, He could not but create. His infinitude implies that He contains within Himself all possibilities, including that of negating Himself, and this possibility had to be realized in the form of creation. Moreover, as St. Augustine also stated, it is in the nature of the good to give of itself, and the Infinitely-Good could not but radiate the reality that constitutes the world and, in fact, all the worlds."*

*The Heart of Islam. HarperSanFrancisco, 2002. page 9.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What's the meaning of life?

As years fly by, an old question returns: “What is the meaning of life?” Many people laugh this question off. I dropped asking that question long ago because some friends responded with, “The meaning of life is in the living of life itself.” That seemed good enough. But, lately, I see and hear a hunger for meaning. I find it among college students, I find it in groups of older people and the very young. It’s not meaningless to ask “What's the meaning of Life”. Asking this "question of questions" may be more powerful and meaningful than any answer. The act of grappling with this great and unanswerable question often yields a deep sense of wordless meaning. We are divine exactly because we can ask this question. Our polite societies dismiss the question of meaning as impractical. Better to go out and shop, watch the Super Bowl; maybe shopping and games are the meaning of life. The impractical, however, can be exquisitely meaningful. Even if it's free.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Far is near; near is far

I've seen families sitting at dinner with both parents and three children all looking at their separate computers and smartphones -- communicating with employers and friends somewhere else. They're together but far away. Mealtime was a sacred moment; a time together to report on a long day. But here, I say: Love is fractured. I walk across the campus. So many students now on their media players listening to class lectures. Meanwhile lecture halls are often less than half full; instead we're walking past each other; minds away within the media player lecture replays. (I can't blame them; so many lectures and readings; too little time.) Or, are they listening to music? We don't know. We pass by so close, while far away. Lecture halls may be boring, but we did experience all our classmates together. Now, it's only on the final exam day that everyone is together. Not much fun! Our relationship "bandwidth" is diminishing. The people around us get less attention; because our attention is scattered throughout millions of cyber-sphere nodes (the internet, phone lines, and old fashioned television and radio. Where will it all go?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Business and wisdom

Today business is the greatest power on earth. The churches and temples are small compared to the world's office towers. Business ethics is now reduced to mere survival tactics. Too many business leaders never stop accumulating wealth and power -- without any hope of true satisfaction or happiness. There's an addiction to constant accumulation for its own sake. This corrupts free markets, governments, media, culture and the human soul. The Halls of Congress are filled with hungry business representatives from corporate boardrooms. Can anything be done? I say "settle down" and meditate. Businesspeople at all levels need to spend time looking within -- to see who they really are. This does more than all the ethics rules and government regulations people come up with. With clear insights, true ethics is spontaneousness -- as we begin to see that we are not in survival, but actually have enough to look beyond self-interest. It's about love; saying "Yes!" to doing business as love and service.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Purpose of life

Does life (your life, my life) have a purpose? Yes. I think it's to live and overcome the illusions of darkness passing through our wobbly minds; getting past the thinking mind to truth itself. This seems impossible. So, we need faith. Not blind faith, but faith meaning firmness. Holding firm for truth until we actually behold truth freeing us from despair, illusion, and darkness. We get to truth and purpose by beholding and holding this present moment until all dissolves away except This-ness. Life's purpose is to realize This-ness; which once realized informs us of exactly what to be and do right now. Easy to say; but often takes a lifetime to realize. That's the adventure. Living in the adventure is already life's purpose.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Spirit of life

God shaped a clay pile into a human form; still something was missing. He had to breathe Life into that clay human; than it became a living man. For the ancients breath is the spirit of life. We "inspire", breathe in; and, "expire", breath out. No spirit, no life. Can there be life without clay, without a body? I think so, if we refer to Life with a capital "L" -- meaning pure timeless (always "was, is, will be") Spirit. If life is "nothing but" organic compounds we would be without consciousness, without comprehension of the organic dimension. I can hardly speak or write of such matters; these are only hints, impressions, inklings of the unspeakable. That's Life.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Philosophy and wisdom

School taught me that the word "philosophy" means "the love of wisdom". I loved the ideas and intellectual arguments of the great philosophers such as Russell, Hume, and Heidegger. As I progressed into graduate school it became clear that most of what is called philosophy is word play seeking more clarity through words. In a deeper search for wisdom I looked into the world's spiritual traditions. But, again, that was mostly words, symbol, and ritual. To cultivate wisdom I had to open myself to deep ways of knowing that go beyond words -- to go explore the being that lives within and around directly. The words, actions and attitudes of a wise person are indescribable. How could wordy philosophers understand? If only they could quiet down we'd have better philosophy.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Great ideas run the world

Great ideas go unnoticed like air; yet, they inform (give form) to our human world. Sometimes we give these ideas names such as: God, truth, integrity, time, money, love, justice for all, freedom, progress and nonviolence. This list is not set in stone. I just made it up! The point is - that we stop and pay attention to what drives our lives by contemplating these great ideas. These ideas, despite their importance, go mostly unexamined in our daily lives; if we examine them, dialogue about them, we enrich our lives with a certain kind of "food for the soul". Ask your friends and co-workers "what are the great ideas?" and engage. Make up your own lists. Your life will be enriched.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Desire is prayer

Prayers are desires* unspoken from deep within. Religion is not required. We are praying all the time. Mostly it's ineffective because we're not allowing prayer to be transformed by That which we are praying to. What is That? My definition of prayer is broad enough to include agnostics and atheists. If prayer is desire coming from deep within (even before materializing into words), it will be ineffective if inclined to be "my" desire. True prayer can't just be about me, it's a relationship with That -- That being the truth which is all around and within us. Our prayer (and the desire) will be transformed by deep inner dialogue with the wider reality beyond myself; otherwise we'll be frustrated by "unanswered" prayers. All prayers will be answered if we allow truth to transform our prayers, our desires.

*This is idea found in Mary Baker Eddy's Science & Health, page 1: "Desire is prayer; no loss can occur from trusting God with our desires, that they may be moulded and exalted before they take words..." In the current essay, I am extending it beyond the religious context.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Just before the rain

Sitting here looking out the window. The cloudy sky darkens. Sensing, with my own body, the air pressure dropping. We are in nature and nature is in us. Sky darkens; my own feelings darken. Tension builds up, can't wait for the rain to start. Gusts of wind, windows rattle! First rain drops. More rain. Yes. Relief at last. Maybe a day inside, happy to be warm and dry. It's already mid-April. So much rain since November. The impending drought is over. Everything so green; grass covers sidewalk edges. Birds singing everywhere. Gratitude abounds.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Human, subhuman, and transhuman

German Nazi society classified Jews as "subhumans". Jews could then be killed and confined without feeling that crimes against humanity where being committed. There is now an emerging "transhumanist" dream of becoming greater than human: living for hundreds or thousands of years, attaining superhuman powers, having a youthful healthy body for a hundred years, greater intelligence, and much more. It's becoming possible with the technological enhancement of the human body. If civilization continues on this path, in a hundred years the human species may split off a new species; recognized as no longer human, just as we say that chimpanzees are sub-human or non-human. Would that new species respect us, the remaining humans? Would we be "sub-transhumans"? Would they despise, kill or enslave us? Or, will there be many sub-species of transhumans specialized to different tasks? The future is not ours, except in dreams to go toward or avoid.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Discipline is power

Many people believe discipline is stiff, difficult and constraining. That's not true. Discipline can bring great freedom. Through discipline's door we become master's of ourselves. We discover a greater power to change self and world. Practice little acts of discipline everyday. I'm now practicing the discipline of writing one paragraph a day & posting it to my philosopher-at-large blog. I get up in the early morning, write a rough draft; look at it later and fix it up. Then I send it to my blog. Each time I do this. It gets easier. It has and does take discipline to keep doing this. In my mind, I want to do this for a year. Life may throw many distracting situations along the way. This effort, maintained over a year will have a positive spillover affect on the rest of life. The specific outcomes matter less than the "incomes" to self-mastery.

Thursday, April 08, 2010


In the early morning email a student activist wrote: "... budget cuts are affecting the lowest-paid workers on campus. We've all noticed how there's more trash due to the lay off of custodians. But many of our students don't realize that these were already low-paid workers living pay-check to pay-check. The remaining dining hall workers and custodians are also facing draconian pay-cuts of up to 20% in a 3-month period. This will force many workers to choose between paying rent and bills or feeding their children. Laid-off workers are now facing eviction if they can't find another job.The amount of money saved by cutting the lowest-paid workers is less than 7$ million statewide. The Regents just approved 9 million in bonuses for executives, clearly showing the Regents' priorities."

I would not be surprised if this is true. Those who control budgets (in schools, corporations, etc.) naturally feel an entitlement to high salaries. This attitude is morally wrong. And, is causing much more harm than good by slowly ripping apart the fabric of society. Where's the ethical value high ground now? Goodness and fairness needs to return not by force but by cultivation of empathy for the poorest members of society. The richer well off people will be happier.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Confessions of an autodidact

I'm an autodidact - someone who is self taught. Yes, I have university degrees; but, always I loved learning what I'm attracted to at any one moment. And I love all knowledge. There's no school that will give me a degree in universal knowledge. Most of the music, poetry, philosophy, science, art, technology, business, and more -- have all been learned by rambling reading, asking questions of others, and self-paced practice. I jump from book to article to Wikipedia as the mind seeks to fill in details on a subject. What I am passionate about, I learn with no effort. What's most fun is to follow chains of association between topics, issues, and fields of study. All is really one and interconnected. Children learn best when they play. If you're not having fun you're not learning.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Art is play

Art is play; it's to delight in conscious existence as its own reward. Children naturally create; it's us serious adults who stop them from making chaotic playful artistic messes. We want them to make drawings and songs with purpose. To constrain consciousness into predefined packages. This, of course, is needed by the laws of civilization - the rules of the road. Yet, we need to appreciate the power of daily spontaneous song. The money making media have co-oped the art of song, of images, of poetry. Take it back. Play again. Sing a song today; a song never sung before. Write freely as if no English teacher is going to correct you. Make a new dance. Breathe free. Be gentle. Be love. We only have this life. Face life. Live it.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

At one with now-ness

I return again and again to the thought of "now-ness". This is a thought, however. There's a deeper step: to drop into the meaning of "now-ness". Can we do that? What's it like? Does one return from now-ness to non-now-ness?

I become at one with now - right now. Staying in now for a while. Forgetting time; no time. Coming back to not-so-much-now. Here I am. Time runs again. This is a dance, a movement between time and eternity.