The gift and the truth

Charles Eisenstein recently, like so many times before, mentioned that he received his life as a gift: It wasn’t for his effort that he came into this world, it wasn’t for his effort that his mother nursed him, it wasn’t for his effort that there are drinkable water and breathable air to support his ongoing existence. In other words, our lives are not earned by anything we do; we just receive them. The natural response to it is gratitude and the wish to give in turn.

The meaning of that insight, for activism, it struck me, suggests that it is not in our hands. by performing any specific actions or set of actions, whether we get granted a better life, another day, another month, another year in this world. Every day is a new gift, every experience is another gift. To be an activist, in this sense, means to live in the gift, to give and be given. To be an activist is to act in accordance with the highest truth you know – heedless of any specific outcome. It may include that you stand for the truth you feel even if it is likely to kill you – not that you seek it out, but you are ready for it because you know that declining to live from another place than truth sometimes draws spiteful attention of those who would break you for their “cause”.

People today usually call that stubbornness or even extremism, but what it actually is about is radical sincerity, coherence, or love of what-is. They call it extreme because insincerity, cognitive dissonance, utilitarianism, lack of identity and a whole range of other such conditions have become so commonplace as to count as normal. But it’s not who we are. It’s not the human condition to be that way, they are just reflective of civilization, the culture of the trauma. This culture and its adherents are refusing their gifts in the same way they are refusing what’s real.

“NO MASK NO ENTRY” – Ivan Illich and the exercise of freedom

The early Christians made … community by sharing the simple communion meal through which they remembered their Lord, and by a mouth-to-mouth kiss through which they shared their spirits in a conspiratio or breathing together,

states Canadian radio broadcaster David Cayley in a book on Austro-American social philosopher Ivan Illich’s views. [David Cayley, The Rivers North of the Future. The Testament of Ivan Illich. House of Anansi Pr., 2005]

 

So this is what it means to conspire. Rather than theorizing on others doing it, we are called to do it ourselves. Which brings me to a message published in our local gazette, the News & Notes 839. It says,

Mask dilemma

The Covid Task force in its weekly communication with the community in the News & Notes, on Auronet and through many Bulletins has done a heroic job! The Pandemic in India is  certainly  not  yet  under  control  and  we  are asked  to  take caution;  It  is  required  by  law  to  keep  social  distance, wear masks while going out and in public places and do not hold or go to large gatherings. As Auroville and Aurovilians, we have to follow the law.

Lately there are more voices of dissent, people who absolutely refuse to wear a mask in Auroville’s public places: going to the Financial Service, PDTC or Pour Tous, (despite clear signs that say: ‘NO MASK NO ENTRY ‘. Unpleasant, jarring, impatient and hot arguments were heard in PDTC at the entrance attacking the amazing people, who keep this service going since March, in a spirit of selfless service, wearing their own hot masks all morning!! and providing us with all our food needs, meanwhile keeping a beautiful atmosphere.  Over the carrot-and onion displays someone went ballistic: shrieking to another customer who dared to inquire why she wasn’t wearing a mask. This was shocking painful and hurtful to everyone present. If some Aurovilians feel so strongly not keeping these simple rules, they of course have the freedom to stop shopping or use Auroville services and do their errands and business elsewhere. It  would  great  if  these  simple  rules  could  be  accepted  and followed by everyone -whatever people’s private opinions are- without the necessity to enforce them.

Stay Healthy!  ~ L.

I have a lot of questions about this piece of writing. What exactly is heroic about sitting in a self-appointed group passing down rules from the Central Government to The City The Earth Needs?  Why are those who work for a wage called selfless, and inhowfar does their self-torturing behaviour make a good example for everyone? It is certainly not ok to accuse or even shout at them, but where is all the rage coming from, did you ever wonder? From the threat of enforcement of ‘voluntary’ obedience, perhaps? Where can they go when all public doors are marked with Get-lost signs? Can they visit alternative offices when there aren’t any? Are they supposed to starve to death in their homes? What has become of the Aurovilian pride in all the non-allopathic methods and ways of healing we once practiced? Once there were Chinese, Tibetan, Ayurvedic, Homeopathic, Yogic, Shamanic and all kinds of ways, now there is only one, the control-obsessed Western-orthodox approach, or rather a perverted politicised version of it that defies all scientific and common-sense understanding.

Despite the many questionable points in the above opinion piece, I’ll focus on the topic of obedience alone. Mirra Alfassa, the founder and “Mother” of Auroville, also called the place The City At The Service Of Truth, and she made clear in many of her statements that laws, rules, traditions, morals, or religions alongside money, police, courts, politics, governments etc. should not rule its ways. A life divine, but no religions, as she famously said.

source: Pixabay

As can be seen from the following quotes, to no surprise, the New Testament as a spiritual document anticipates some of the things that the Mother, along with many other wisdom teachers, said about proper relation of the truth-seeker to rules.
Let me quote from Cayley’s book [in italics]; not in order to establish yet another authority or to argue theological points, but to give a perspective on what the insistence on obedience might mean.

What the Samaritan does is to step fearlessly outside what his culture has sanctified in order to create a new relationship and, potentially, a new community. He does not seek God within a sacred circle but finds him lying by the road in a ditch. His possibilities cannot be predicted or circumscribed. He lives, in the apostle Paul’s words, “not under the law, but under grace.” [Cayley]

“We are released from the Law, having died to what was binding us, and so we are in a new service, that of the spirit, and not in the old service of a written code.” [Paul, Letter to the Romans, 7:6]

In other words, the spirit defines our relationship, not our man-made arbitrary rules. One of Illich’s central tenets was that even the duty to help and the obligation to solidarity eliminate empathy and spirit from the good work. Before everything else, there ought to be compassion, not judgment. The person that comes to your doorstep is a person in need. Right action does not draw its direction from the norm or from fear of breaking rules.

 

“If I had not come and spoken to them they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.” [Jesus, Gospel of John, 15:22-23]

While modern political and social theory has it that societies are shaped and held together by their rules, the bond of community is understanding. It doesn’t mean that laws, traditions or rituals are absent in community, but that they do not have precedence over compassion. Through the message passed on by numerous voices such as the Buddha, Jesus, or the Mother, we have been made aware of our freedom to act compassionately, and that the strict application – not the breach – of rules is a sin:

 

Sin, in this new context, no longer means just a violation of the law, but something more — a coldness or indifference to what has been revealed and made possible. [Cayley]

Don’t take ‘sin’ for the religious crime codified by the Roman Church, but for the betrayal of the relationship established by the loving trust of the Samaritan into the commonly despised stranger.

“Sin,” Illich says, “is refusing to honour that relationship which came into existence between the Samaritan and the Jew, which comes into existence through the exercise of freedom, and which constitutes an ‘ought’ because I feel called by you, called to you, called to this tie between human beings, or between beings and God […] It is not in any sense offensive of a law. It is always an offence against a person. It’s an infidelity.”

To value the law over the person, that is sin. Freedom, though, is not about permanent rebellion against rules in general, but about unrestrained acting in the spirit of the good: compassion, truthfulness, community.

Sin, on this account, is not simply an evil, or a moral fault. It is a failing against the Spirit, possible only for those who have heard and ignored what they have heard, and visible only in the light of that freedom that Paul says is identical with “the forgiveness of sin.” [Cayley]

Separation from Emptiness

Returning from Friesenheim once more, where I participated, for the third time [2017][2018], in the summer university‘s discussion on a given topic, I feel a bit at loss how to summarize what we have found. We were talking about ‘being weak’ – this was the event’s topic at least – which, to a certain extent, we did. But the subgroup I was with immersed itself deeply in the meme of separation central to a text excerpt from Charles Eisenstein’s book The Ascent of Humanity we used, and we were also grappling with the near-term demise of global industrial civilization, another meme which popped up all over the place. People seemed to unanimously expect it to happen, and often imagined it to come about in a kind of crash, because it was hard to see for them, us, how our culture would change voluntarily. ‘People’ means, academics mainly from sciences like sociology, psychology, or religion, but also biologists, therapists, engineers, ministry officials, self-employeds, craftsmen, book authors and a range of other professions.

the conception of ourselves as discrete and separate subjects in a world of other. This is the ideology of separation. The ideology that has created the human realm we know is the same ideology that has us despair we can ever change it ~~Charles Eisenstein’s website

it is separation that has generated the converging crises of today’s world. People of a religious persuasion might attribute the fundamental crisis to a separation from God; people of an ecological persuasion, to a separation from nature; people engaged in social activism might focus on the dissolution of community (which is a separation from each other); we might also investigate the psychological dimension, of separation from lost parts of ourselves. For good or ill, it is separation that has made us what we are […]

No, I’m not going to blame it all on “capitalism”, for our economic system too is more a symptom than a cause of separation. ~~Charles Eisenstein, The Ascent of Humanity, Introduction

‘By chance,’ on the very day after my return from Friesenheim, separation also played a role in an online discussion on the Buddhist concept of Nirvana. Being asked whether I knew something that would clarify the meaning of Nirvana, I said something to the tunes of:
I’m not sure about ‘knowing’ more, but I would add some more delusion and confusion, if you allow me to 😉 I’m not closely familiar with the Buddha’s original teachings but I think we’ll be getting close enough.
Marianne Gronemeyer, professor emeritus, social scientist, philosopher, book author, and one of the Friesenheim hosts strongly suggested in a verbal exchange that “understanding” another person is impossible to achieve. We will never know what someone truly felt or meant to say, and it is a sign of arrogance to claim otherwise. This is not to invite sloppiness into our communication, but humbleness and deep listening. Nevertheless, in general, I find it nourishing and useful to develop our own understanding from even the most superficial take on other people’s concepts. Even false or decontextualized quotes may help with this (as long as we don’t use the originator’s name in an authoritative way, claiming that she’d agree with us).
So, diving into the Nirvana discussion with my online discussion mate, she quoted from Joseph Campbell.

“The verb nirva (Sanskrit) is, literally, ‘to blow out,’ not transitively, but as a fire ceases to draw… Deprived of fuel, the fire of life is ‘pacified’ i.e. quenched, when the mind has been curbed, one attains to the ‘peace of Nirvana,’ ‘despiration in God.’ … It is by ceasing to feed our fires that the peace is reached, of which it is well said in another tradition that ‘it passeth understanding’ […] The word “de-spiration” is contrived from a literal Latinization of the Sanskrit nirvana, nir = “out, forth, outward, out of, out from, away, away from”; nirvana = “blow out, gone out, extinguished.” ~~Joseph Campbell, Hero with A Thousand Faces, p. 139

The etymological meaning of Nirvana adds an interesting new angle for me, as I have learned the word as describing Emptiness, the liberation from attachment to the material world, and the end point of the cycle of rebirth.

The void is the fifth element known to Asian cultures. The void is obviously the dominant, most abundant element. It is not empty in the European sense of emptiness or nothingness but holds the relationships between things, so it’s actually very full. Many regard it as the real substance of existence. Life, for Asians (and also wild peoples), is relatedness, as opposed to the European sense of separate selves and discrete objects.

Adyashanti, a modern teacher with Zen and Christian roots, describes Emptiness as the matrix from which form (matter, thought, emotion etc) emerges. Sound rises from silence which is always there. Thought arises from stillness which is always there. Existence arises from non-existence which is always there. Enlightenment is our mode of existence; that’s why we cannot attain it, but only awaken to it. Enlightenment is realizing Emptiness, Nirvana, in which no thing exists, which means there are no distinctions, which means this is ‘where’ Oneness lies. So Emptiness is both empty and not-empty. Important to note, here, are the different concepts of Emptiness: Oneness (formlessness) in Buddha’s sense, relatedness (which requires forms) in Asian folk religion/culture, as well as in Eisenstein’s philosophy, of course.

My conversation partner developed an interesting thought:

This may sound strange, but I wonder if releasing all the delusions that the mind creates and then holds so dear is not a lot like peeing… and the relief of emptiness once all the stuff the body can no longer use is gotten rid of… maybe the mind needs to get rid of all the stuff it can not longer use.

Yes, it feels exactly like this when I’m writing. It’s like pee seeking release from its narrow confines, collecting, releasing, and collecting once more.
As for getting rid of ‘stuff,’ by which we usually mean thought and its contents – that’s not necessary in an extinguishing way in order to enter Nirvana. All it takes is being with it. Imagine that like sitting in a car with the motor running idle, when the motor doesn’t force the car into motion. There’s a funny moment in one of Krishnamurti’s talks (The Real Revolution #1, 16:00 –19:25) where he ‘explains’ that issue to somebody asking, How?

Adyashanti says, the idea of control over one’s life

is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. It is based on an understanding that you are a separate individual person, human being, separate from the whole, separate from others and separate from life, and you need to make sure that your life and your car get where you want it to get. If there is a prescription for suffering, I’d say, that’s about as accurate as you can get. Funny thing is that the very prescription for suffering is the very thing that we think is the prescription for happiness. ~~Surrender or suffer

Mel Weitsman put the matter of getting rid of thought like this: “When thoughts come, you can invite them in but don’t serve them tea.” There is a time and place for the application of thought; just don’t let thought run your car.

Words rest in thought; thought creates illusion which veils the reality of Emptiness, Non-Existence. That’s why we may enter Nirvana by being still and detaching ourselves from delusion. When you chip away everything that is not true in your life you end up with nothing to hold on to: Emptiness.

Language (especially European languages) acts like an obstacle in the way of understanding here because it only inaccurately translates Asian / Zen reality into the concepts and the basic assumptions of (our) culture. Words create paradoxies where there are none, eg. if Non-existence is that which does not exist, Non-existence does not exist; what does that mean for a (no-) thing like ‘Emptiness’? These things are better seen than spoken about.
On a side note, those paradoxies are powerful tools for shocking people out of unquestioned assumptions and help opening them up to the reality of Emptiness. Having clear concepts of Nirvana does not help with either understanding or awakening to it; so I’m not sure whether my words do you any favour 😀

PS
see also: Deepak Chopra – The nature of reality
Thanks to Rob de Laet.

Pulling the plug (Yurugu series #9)

The Yurugu blog series attempts to uncover some of the myths the dominant culture is based upon. As we have a hard time seeing the things we take for granted the view from outside, through the eyes of a different culture, may help with discovering our biases and enable us to act more consciously.
Marimba Ani, the author of the book Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior,is not involved in putting up the series and does not necessarily agree to its contents. The series is also not meant to present the book’s central thesis, or to agree one-hundred percent with it; rather the blogs are inspired by the deep thoughts Marimba Ani has put forward, and offer some of them for consideration. This is the last blog herein.

pic: Bijay Chaurasia (cc 3.0 by-sa)

[previous article]
Adyashanti, a teacher with Christian and Zen Buddhist roots, once described awakening as a process of chipping away everything that is not true or real. The many concepts, beliefs and material things our culture has accumulated over thousands of years require a lot of chipping before glimpses at its underlying drives and axioms become possible. Still far from having reached ultimate reality the work for us, then, becomes the disempowerment of the power-seeking asili, first and foremost the meme of separation. We’ll see in a moment why that is so.
Members of Western civilization perceive themselves to be fundamentally separate and alone and therefore constantly under threat; they – we – lack balance and completeness. Consequently,

Material accumulation becomes the tool of an assurance against the hostilities and attacks of others. The individual becomes obsessed with the negative and threatening possibilities of the future – with accident and with death. He lives in a culture diseased with thanatophobia and one that provides him with insurances “against” every kind of physical or material possibility imaginable, yet knowing that no amount of financial gain can redeem his soul. He is truly Faustian man – but he did not choose to be so. The “choice” is already implicit in the asiliof the culture: the bio-cultural, ideological core.

European culture, then, fails in the primary function of a cultural construct, i.e., to provide the human being with the emotional security brought by spiritual communion. This sense of security, which the European fails to achieve, in majority cultures [“non-European” peoples] is created out of the spirituality of human interrelatedness and a concept of shared human value; an arena that transcends the material. (Yurugu, p380)

What is true for the culture as a whole does not fail to affect its members. The lack of true community goes hand in hand with a lack of deeply-felt love:

While the conception of love as the desire and ability to merge or unite with “other” may be accurate, “expansion” of the self is not the same as unification of self and other. And this is crucial to understanding the problems that beset, not “humankind,” but the European specifically. If the ability to love is predicated on the capacity of identifying “self” with “other,” then it is clear from this discussion that European culture does not provide a basis for the love-experience; instead it imposes an utamawazo[culturally structured thought, philosophy] that inhibits (devalues) identification and emotional participation and an ethic that complements and is consistent with this cognitive structure. We have come full circle to Plato. For him “knowing” was more important than “loving,” and “to know” meant knowing as “object,” something separate and distinct from self. Europeans, perhaps, do not love themselves and have no basis from which to love “others,” Norman Brown says. (Yurugu, p394)

Marimba Ani 2008

In other words, within European culture as expressed by its cultural core, it is impossible to create healthy relationships to the world in general, other living beings, other countries, other members of our culture, to our “loved” ones, or even – and especially – to ourselves (our Selves). If we are ever to overcome the many difficulties and life-threatening crises we are faced with, this is where the root causes lie, and this is where we need to work for change. Yet,

Intra-culturally, there is no basis for morality. Instead, there is merely a competitive ethic. The well-being and “success” of each disparate “self” (or ego) is threatened by that of others. Instead of being dependent on their well-being, European social structures depend, for their proper, efficient functioning, on mutual aggression, distrust, and competitiveness; i.e., fundamentally hostile relationships. If love were to enter into these micro-systems they would break down. But they are ensured against this occurrence, since they breed for cold calculation and reward competitiveness and aggression. (p 559)

This is what “love is the answer” means. While some may understand it in a fluffy sense, a woo-woo notion of irrational elevation from physical reality, love’s power to soften the stranglehold of civilized life from the inside is truly immense. It is both the force that weakens our culture’s foundations, and the result of its progressive inability to exert power over us. In the case of citizens of civilization, to love means to revolutionize what-is.

The only way of negating (short of destroying the culture from without) the inherently paternalistic nature of European interaction with other peoples would be to alter the European self-image, and that would mean changing the character of the utamaroho [collective personality] and the values dictated by the ideology: The ideology is, of course, embedded in the nature of the asili. That is a frightening truth for the European “humanist”; it’s neither pleasurable nor rewarding in any immediate sense. Moreover, it is the most morally difficult task Europeans could undertake. The call for a world culture is an escape from such an unpleasant prospect. It has been, in the main, a way of procrastinating – of putting off a painful, but necessary, ordeal – much as one puts off tooth extraction, knowing full well that the tooth will eventually have to come out. The issues are how long it will take the decay to cause untenable pain and how extensively it will be allowed to spread. There can be no viable process of European self-criticism, because this goes against the nature of their utamaroho. The decay will spread until the infection is expunged by the world’s majority (those external to the culture), otherwise the culture will simply rot. (Yurugu, p539f)

As a human of German descent I shouldn’t begin to criticize my culture, some may think. But what Marimba Ani is talking about in her eye-opening book Yurugu is not the eternal condemnation, or the eradication, of the Caucasian race. While the lack of melanin, as some authors speculate, may have played a role in developing our obsession with power, the psychological condition can be healed fully after it becomes conscious and the person – or culture – is sincerely willing to overcome her condition. My own awakening has been triggered, and my awareness has been sharpened by Buddhism and other wisdom traditions whose roots are based in non-European soil. I can see the culture I have grown up with from a different perspective today. The words of a Native American like Jack D. Forbes, or of an ethnic African like Marimba Ani, do make sense in a very deep way. How deep I have reached in my search for truth is, of course, unfathomable to myself; but I can sincerely say that I have been chipping away quite a lot of substance from the asilii’s manifestation within me; which means to say, change is possible.

The measure cannot be words alone; talk is cheap. We need to understand the workings of our culture on such a level that we cannot help but to translate our understandings into consequent tangible actions and coherent behaviour. There are things we would, and some we wouldn’t do from then on. As the place which those actions get motivation from is just as important, a to-do list – starting with, 1.) change lightbulbs – cannot be the answer to the question of what is required from an aspiring revolutionary. We need to work this out with our local community. It is in the process of reconnecting with others and with our true Self that we mustdiscover what our new culture will look like. One cannot know its specifics from before the paradigm shift. It would likely not resemble any of the habits currently lived by any of the world’s cultures; but it would, for the first time in ten thousand years, be compatible with the continuation of life on Earth.

Fingerprints on water

Being asked the question, What do you do to make the world a better place?, or, What do you do to live up to your highest understanding of what is good and real?, the answer is… less.

I live in a small space without walls. There is neither clock nor calendar in there, no TV, no radio receiver, no washing machine, no stove; I own five electrical items only – a solar candle, a light bulb, a camera, a laptop, a tablet – and I am committed to not replace the latter three once they come beyond repair. I’m slowing down, inwardly and outwardly. I don’t own a motorized vehicle; I arranged my life in such a way as to be able to rely on my bicycle or walk for 99 out of 100 days. I stopped traveling for pleasure. I use a dry compost toilet. I wash myself and my laundry in a bucket; my daily water usage is around 30-40 liters max. I don’t eat meat. I don’t smoke, drink, or dope. I don’t phone. I reduced the consumption of music and movies and books and sweets and clothes. I wear my stuff for years and years, first for “proper” dressing, then for casual home use, after for gardening, and finally for rags with which to clean floors and vegetables. I live on little more than one Euro per day. I stopped buying stuff, with the exception of bread and some fruits which are not available from the farm, a toothbrush once in a while, some soap.

drawing by Wilhelm Busch (1832-1908)

The list of material items I have removed from my life goes on for much longer. I don’t want to bore you with it. I also think that this is not the most important part of my story of doing less. Sure, the less I consume the less I pollute. But then again, I’m aware that I’m just one man among billions of others – many of whom consume more than their purse allows them to. I also know Jevons’ Paradox, according to which saving resources only results in an overcompensation; somebody else will consume what I left untouched, and perhaps more than that. I am also aware that, compared to a tribal human, I own more things than I probably need. I certainly cannot carry everything at once. I still take flights twice a year, to visit my aging mother. I don’t believe in offsetting. I’ll just quit it once she’s gone. Let’s stay positive saying, there is room for future reduction, to a life like fingerprints on water.

On the plane of the immaterial I am cutting down on many things as well. I don’t protest, campaign, petition. The hectic activity, the anxious frenzy, the omnipresent noise and light and technological stink and the constant advertising and information-pushing begin to cause me nausea. I have downscaled my knowing, reasoning, judging, arguing. That makes it harder to write and talk, but then again, what is there to say that hasn’t already been told by somebody else? And can I really claim I’m right with what I say? Who is that Mewhich tends to inflate to epic proportions? I haven’t found the needle in my haystack of yet-to-be-discarded items with which to collapse the balloon-like person I think I am, but I sure have fun releasing some of its air through the vent. The smaller it gets the less ugly it becomes. 
 
Am I leaving my mark in this world by not leaving a mark when I leave,as a Texan musician put it in the late nineties? I believe I have done too much already to achieve this, and I don’t even know whether it’s desirable. Our very existence changes the world, for better or worse. So why don’t we go for the better? My goal is not about reducing everything to zero. It’s rather about chipping away that which is destructive, disturbing, disruptive, delusive; to find the right balance between being and becoming. Like most people in industrial civilization I weigh too heavy on the planet’s capacity to sustain life. That’s why my path leads downward, away from the apex of our culture, towards the foundations of existence.

Owning less goes straight against the paradigm of separation; consuming less is incompatible with the locust culture currently ruling the whole planet; and doing less, to me, is the confession that the complexity of the world is way beyond my understanding. I just don’t know what is good for everybody. I hardly know what is good for me. I’ve got an intuition, and I follow it. I don’t know where this ends but it feels good to trust that feeling, and I do not suffer from less stuff. There is no sacrifice, no loss, no self-denial. It’s rather the opposite – every gadget, every insurance, every untruthful relationship, every idea, every activity that fell away provided space and time for something much more valuable: the essence of it all, the unadulterated sensation of living, the meaning of being alive. Not that I got that to the fullest; as already shared, I still own things, thoughts, personae. Life is becoming more and more interesting though.

Now if you ask me whether I recommend my way to everybody, I say, Of course – not! My pathworks for my feet. What I (do not) do is a manifestation of myunderstanding. You need to follow yours. In fact, you have no choice but to do so. If anything you can only choose what you wish to understand. Maybe that’s a suitable point for starting the revolution, and maybe it starts with understanding less.

Consciousness and conscience atrophied (Yurugu series #3)

The Yurugu blog series attempts to uncover some of the myths the dominant culture is based upon. As we have a hard time seeing the things we take for granted the view from outside, through the eyes of a different culture, may help with discovering our biases and enable us to act more consciously.
Marimba Ani, the author of the book “Yurugu: An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior”, is not involved in putting up the series and does not necessarily agree to its contents. The series is also not meant to present the book’s central thesis, or to agree one-hundred percent with it; rather the blogs are inspired by the deep thoughts Marimba Ani has put forward, and offer some of them for consideration.

[previous article]

With technology, we have developed massive power that can be used for better or for worse. However, our consciousness, and our conscience – what the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire called “conscientisation” – has not kept pace with invention.

This has left us utterly exposed to the blandishments of marketing. Exposed to what might be thought of as “Microsoft security vulnerabilities” within the human psyche.

– (Alastair McIntosh: Extinction Rebellion – a ‘joyous call’, in: The Ecologist, 18.12.2018)

Marimba Ani, from World Afropedia (cc by-nc-sa 3.0)

Shaped by the utterings of my teacher back in 7th grade religious education, something like McIntosh’s view has been my conviction until only recently. I’m not quite clear on when the change of perspective happened. I only know when it came to the forefront, with a bang: when I read the above article. Suddenly I thought, this is a damn myth, harping on the idea that, basically, our techno-scientific culture was a natural development, and that the artifacts created and the concepts adopted had no inherent value, and so could be used for better or worse. When we perceive a lack of consciousness and conscience, i.e., spirit and morality, that lack is more or less a result of our focus having been busy with inventing – so they think.

Nothing could be farther from truth.

To be sure, our focus is locked onto the rational perspective; both culturally and individually we are heavily distracted, in a multitude of ways, by a technically mediated reality. But this is by no means a casual effect, or a condition easily remedied by putting more emphasis on “consciousness and conscience;” regardless of what those words mean. Rather, it is the consequence of a decision made long ago: the decision to see the world from a distinct, discrete and separate human point of view. Marimba Ani writes,

Abstract categories of thought, conceptual absolutes, the syntax of universalism become the means by which they are able to achieve the illusion of transcendence. But the culture forecloses on the consequences of faith and love, while inhibiting their precondition; i.e., spirituality. The universe loses its richness as it is transformed into lifeless matter; the supernatural is reduced to the “natural,” which means to them, the merely biological or physical. Consequently time can only be lineal; space, three-dimensional; and material causality, the ultimate reality. In European religious thought the human and the divine are hopelessly split; there is no sacred ground on which they meet. In such a setting, the exaggerated material priorities of the culture are simply a result of the praxis of its participants, of the limiting realities offered by the culture. The resultant materialism further despiritualizes the culture. So the circle is joined; and European culture gives the appearance of being a self-perpetuating system. (Marimba Ani: Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior, 1994, p556f)

Western science and technology, like all of Western civilization, including its philosophy and religion, are incompatible with what Alastair McIntosh summed up under “consciousness and conscience.” If we define our world in rational, material, and utilitarian terms, what is the neglected consciousness part supposed to consist of? The irrational? The immaterial? The useless?
I would very much think so. Rational, material, use-oriented spirituality, friendship, emotion etc are contradictions in terms; I also don’t see how they could improve on the unfortunate situation of having overemphasized the mechanistic worldview – especially its scientific and technological manifestations – for five centuries, now amending them with even more rationalized parts of a reality that is fundamentally immaterial. To Marimba Ani, our worldview precludes all of that; she denies that we could achieve a true morality based on European tradition:

A rationalistic ethic, accompanied by an isolating concept of self is, in the context of majority cultural [ie. non-European] philosophies, diametrically opposed to that which is moral, as “morality” – the proper attitude and behavior towards others – is based on love or identification, which necessitates a “joining with other.” This “union” is a spiritual rather than a rationalistic phenomenon and cannot be achieved by an act of “reason” (conceived as abstracted from “emotion”). It is a repudiation of the idea of “objectification.” (Yurugu, p390)

Consequently, what I receive when I point out the dilemma as described above is stonewalling and utter rejection. The “religious,” as the rational minds of our days choose to call every notion immaterial, to them, is a non-negotiable no-go area, and so they continue their search for rational solutions to and technological salvation from the self-inflicted wound of disconnectedness, which we treat with haemostatic agents while continuing to stab ourselves. Our technological gadgets are like the blood money Judas has received for turning his back on the Divine. It didn’t end well for him, and it certainly won’t for us.

[next article in the series]

Dr Marimba Ani talking about the Afrikan Worldview and Conceptualization:

Surrender or suffer

How can the independence of human volition be harmonized with the fact that we are integral parts of a universe which is subject to the rigid order of nature’s laws?”, asked Max Planck. (emphases mine… so proud of it)
Wow, that’s three assumptions in one sentence, and one hell of a question to ask… usually put forward during the small hours, after one long drunken party night, when it’s just the host and his best friend sitting on a sofa in a candle-lit room. But people are ruminating something like this since forever. Open any philosophy primer you got it there, right in the center of the presentation, no matter who wrote the volume.
Leaving aside premise two – humans are integral parts of the Universe; we’ll come back to this in a minute – can we do as we please or are the gods, or chance events, or the laws of physics – force majeureanyway – determining what’s going on? (and what is the role of the CIA, or the Vatican’s here?)
Good question! I said that already, right. And like every ordinary history-of-science edutainment programme, I’ll get you stranded with more of those questions than you had before, I believe. Weird hypotheses and unprovable theories, here we go.
One of them being that either determinism or free will might be an illusion. Likely both.
Free will is the sensation of making a choice. The sensation is real, but the choice seems illusory,” said Brian Greene, an American theoretical physicist, mathematician, and string theorist. Russian geologist Vladimir Vernadsky joined him by asking: “Thought isn’t a form of energy. So how on Earth can it change material processes?”
There is this thing about premises: once you start looking out for them they are popping up left and right. Can real sensations have illusory content? Does thought have no substance / energy to it? I am not buying into these assumptions just like that. In some way they sound true enough, because you cannot see or touch mental activities. Viewed from an Asian perspective, though, reality does not merely consist of forces and matter, as described before (see also Cognitive justice: science and the sacred). When we feel free, or bound, this feeling expresses the state of a relationship. And it touches right into what many cultures regard as the building… uhm… blocks of reality.
Freedom also lies at the heart of every spiritual tradition there is, yet not in the form of civil rights, free choice, free enterprise, or free thought. To put it bluntly, according to those traditions freedom is the freedom from being ruled by one’s desires, or, in other words, the freedom to want what you get because you love what-is.
Does that sound awful to you? I guess it does, even to those who live by it because I so horribly oversimplified the matter. But I’m serious here. What I am trying to point at is that we need to have a look at hidden assumptions because they define what we mean by ‘freedom’. That’s a difficult task. They often dwell in the subconscious parts of our mind, together with all the rotten stuff about peculiar sex fetishes and gory violent phantasies. Yet they may become conscious when they get confronted with surprisingly different sets of premises. For the sake of this argument, let’s just take a quote from the American teacher Adyashanti, on the relationship between reality, thought, and suffering:
[The idea of control over one’s life] is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. It is based on an understanding that you are a separate individual person, human being, separate from the whole, separate from others and separate from life, and you need to make sure that your life and your car get where you want it to get. If there is a prescription for suffering, I’d say, that’s about as accurate as you can get. Funny thing is that the very prescription for suffering is the very thing that we think is the prescription for happiness.”
–Adyashanti – Surrender or suffer, 29:20
People who believe in the individual’s freedom of will and choice hate this kind of speech. Not only does it mention the premises that usually nobody talks about because they seem so self-evident. To them, it sounds like saying, “Freedom is slavery”. And that hits the nail right on the head, though not in the Orwellian sense: According to the Buddha, their misunderstood freedom of choice makes them slaves to their desires. Such slavery comes with all sorts of nasty ramifications like, suffering from lack of ice cream in the presence of huge amounts of milk shakes.

Is Adyashanti a determinist? Not at all. His Zen-based, Non-dualism shaped understanding teaches that we make a conceptual mistake when, in our mind, we pit freedom against determinism. Separated from each other both notions are illusory. As we are one with all of existence there is no separate me that could manipulate an external reality or get controlled by it. It only appears this way. To make it more interesting, ie. confusing, Buddhists believe that their lives are determined by karmic forces… and they get encouraged to alter those through right action and right thinking.

So, when neither free will nor deterministic philosophy are convincing models for how the world works, can we imagine a both-and relationship instead?
The Norman Cousins quote (see image) points in one possible direction.
In a book I recently read and presented here (see essay The limits to reason) I found a similar, yet slightly different thought that conciliates determinism and free will into a holistic view:
We, like any other entity, are an element in Nature’s round. The notion that we have the freedom to do as we like is an illusion. Each of us do as we must do as part of Nature’s round. We have a free will only to the extent that we can choose to recognise our embeddedness in the round and participate willingly or be dragged along unwillingly, live joyfully or miserably.”
Tending our land, by M. G. Jackson & Nyla Coelho. Kolkata, Earthcare, 2016, p125
So your fate depends on what you make of it. This works on two levels simultaneously. Surrendering to the suchness of existence removes the element of suffering. Suffering comes into existence when I desire something which I cannot have, or when I get something that I do not exactly desire. When I am free of desires, or when I feel no obligation to follow those I have, I am liberated. I have no choice over what happens, but I have choice over how it affects my feelings. The stories we tell about what happened to us vary very much depending on how we feel about events — and vice versa. If you asked me today to tell the story of my divorce I’d give you a completely different account of it than I would have five years ago or back then when it happened. Yet I would have insisted each time when I told each different story that this is what I really experienced. (No. DON’T ask!)
From this follows what happens on the second level: having changed my view from victim to observer or to active participant – which is a freedom I have – my actions and responses change accordingly. Within each worldview – victim, observer, actor – I have no choice over my reactions to outside stimuli. Hypothetically I might have done something else, yet I didn’t; I chose to do what I did because I thought what I thought, and that’s it. From there on, it’s all deterministic. Sounds interesting enough to me to run some experiments with this assumption as a basis, although I suspect that Adyashanti got it more accurate.
Proof? I can prove the both-and hypothesis no more than any of the deterministic and free-will philosophers could prove their favourite view, but I may take this idea and compare it to my perceived reality. If I’m lucky I can verify it as a functioning model for my everyday life, but most likely I’ll find exceptions to the rule, and the inquiry into the nature of truth and reality goes on – which I’m fine with.
Use? I’d say the question whether someone is responsible for their actions or not makes a big difference. If my actions are determined, there is no place for worry, shame, guilt, and punishment; can’t be held accountable for something that was not under my control. No use feeling bad about it either.
And if freedom is our true, deepest nature, there, too, is no place for worry, shame, guilt, or punishment; for what kind of freedom were that if I wasn’t free to make mistakes? After all, I can choose to mend my ways anytime.
So why do I often choose not to?
O dear, don’t get me started.

Return from Friesenheim

Some thoughts on ‘the other’ and on ‘being different’

The following is a synthesis of some thoughts collected at a three-days discussion at the Friesenheimer Sommeruniversität last week-end and at another discussion simultaneously happening at the facebook group “The Six Blind and the Elephant.”
I think it is necessary to point out that, if we are actually desiring human unity, the path to its realization cannot imply divisiveness and fighting-against. In my community we are talking about ‘unity in diversity’, meaning, we accept that we are born, and have evolved, differently; all of us are diverse expressions of the One, and it doesn’t take for all of us to look the same, think the same, act the same. We are already one, whether we notice this or not. In the early stages of becoming aware of it, as an intellectual concept only, there is sometimes the desire to manipulate or force others into complying with this concept. What if we got everybody, every single individual, to accepting this idea? But that’s not unity, is it? We’d get a collection of seperate beings at best, mental tyranny at worst, so there is no use in this.
The Universal Consciousness oberves itself through the varied lenses of our individuality. It laughs at our attempts to stuff parts of its infiniteness into arbitrary boxes arranged into random hierarchies of ‘better’ and ‘worse’, and it is amused in the same way about efforts to counter the unfolding fragmentation with levelling differences down. Both movements, discrimination of differences and denying differences, are an expression of the notion that we are separate, independent beings.

Mountain Chief
listening to recording
with Frances Densmore
1916 (public domain)
The path to unity leads through acceptance of, and respect for, our many differences, our diversity. There are no two people on the planet, no two stones, no two trees, no two bacteria, or even two electrons that are the same. There is always something to distinguish two entities by, if only by their position in space. There are things that make us alike, though, which allows us to say, This is a human who is sharing common human traits, and this is a tree showing similar characteristics like others of its kind. To focus on the set of attributes which makes each of the readers of this essay a human being means to focus on our fundamental unity as humankind. But to value those attributes over other sets of attributes separates us from other beings. And to value certain characteristics like white skin, leftist ideology, or middle-range income, higher than other characteristics, again, results in separation. Yes, we are diverse; but it’s the judgment of our differences as higher or lower, better or worse, that sets us apart and makes us think we were incompatible with each other.
As for ‘narcissists’, ‘thieves’, ‘destroyers’ and other groups we have identified as ‘problematic’, it helps when we apply different language. Instead of sticking a label to somebody and thus saying that eg. thiefing is a certain person’s particular character, we could say that s/he has stolen, or that s/he has shown thiefing behaviour; this small change in grammar changes our own reality big time and allows us to believe that this person has other character traits as well. S/he is not only about stealing and s/he has the capacity to change their way. Instead of prohibiting (and finally eliminating the ‘problem’, and the person with it) we may ask, which unfulfilled need drives this person or group to acting as they do, and what can I do to help meeting this need differently.
This, of course, takes some time and is a matter of personal interaction; it can rarely be achieved on a large scale with thousands or milliions of people, though a supportive environment may help with fostering change. On the other hand, from what I understand, it is important to know that manipulating somebody into doing something, the top-down approach, and the demand for immediate satisfaction are part of how the world arrived at its current state. Do you see how all of this has implications for what we can or cannot do to establish a more balanced, harmoneous situation?
When we perceive ourselves as different from, let’s say a ‘thief’, or when we are being labelled ‘thieves’ , it always takes a reference point perceived as ‘normal’. But that makes the ‘other’ and the ‘normal’ obverse and reverse faces of oneand the same leaf. So, in all our diversity we are basically one. We could say that the common denominator of being normal and of being different is being — what an amazing realization to have…

To the organizers and participants of the Friesenheim event, I’d like to express my thanks for the many questions put, help offered, food shared, kind words spoken, and inspirations given, and all of that so freely. This was one great gathering of people willing to support each other in our search for truth and freedom, and I guess most, if not all of us agree that there is an intimate connection between the two.

I’d love to offer those who’d enjoy to continue our discourse on ‘Being Different’ — contact me by commenting to this blog or by writing me a mail. Marianne and Reimer know my address and may pass it on.

On another note, a few copies of my booklet on life in rural Tamil Nadu are still available for free. Would you like to have one?

The Empire Express, 15 July 2017

Editorial

What transpires from many of the following items is the indication, the plea, the outcry, and even the demand for rising up before too long. The writers, speakers, and interviewees agree more or less in their view of the complete corruption of civilization’s institutions but they differ in what to do about it. The more despair is involved the more violence is being calculated into the equation. The more compassion rules the more the change becomes a matter of individual inner liberation.
Jensen, Hedges, Eisenstein, Adyashanti, and Macy each make solid points for their case. Some are giving a flaming speech, some are invoking kindness; all of them are asking, Will you be a part of the solution?

Ongoing Assault

Barbarians, that’s what the Elite calls the general population. A long read.
The uninhabitable Earth (annotated edition) – David Wallace-Wells, New York magazine, 20170714
Now that major magazines and newspapers are picking up on reporting from the climate front articles like this (first issued July 9th) come as less of a surprise. Still, there was an outcry both in the mainstream media, and the scientific press, not to talk about the dumbstruck ignorant population, about how someone dare painting such a dire picture (“climate change porn”) and thus found a “suicide cult”, without substantiation. On July 14th, five days later, the magazine issued an annotaded version which provided sources for the information given.
Though the threat of human extinction still looms at the comfortable distance of almost a century to go the description of the consequences of global warming in this long essay feel more realistic than most of what can be read elsewhere.
Heat increases municipal crime rates, and swearing on social media, and the likelihood that a major-league pitcher, coming to the mound after his teammate has been hit by a pitch, will hit an opposing batter in retaliation.”
Ok, quoting this paragraph wasn’t fair of me. The extent and depth of what climate change will mean to us as a civilization and as a species has been covered as good as it gets. That is because the author has obviously done some research and also spoken to a number of scientists personally. If you’ve seen the piece about those four Australian concerned climatologists, this is your follow-up story, this is what they are scared about.
The old paradigm is crumbling, something new emerges. I am not entirely sure whether the author would agree with seeing ecosystems in terms of communities or if we have to take the word ‘system’ in its mechanistic sense in which humans still can ‘trigger’ desired events, but the general direction sounds fine.
Some very practical consequences of global warming: How is life changing in Alaska (and Canada and Siberia), what becomes of human settlements and infrastructure? Remote was yesterday.
Documents expose how Hollywood promotes war on behalf of the Pentagon, CIA and NSA – Tom Secker & Matthew Alford, InsurgeIntelligence, 20170704
US military intelligence agencies have influenced over 1,800 movies and TV shows”
Imagine– Derrick Jensen, Tlaxcala, 20170703
Jensen straight forward in his critique of industrial civilization and people’s lack of imagination that stands in the way of overcoming it:
‘Imagine for a moment that we weren’t suffering from this lack of imagination. Imagine a public official saying not that he cannot imagine living without electricity, but that he cannot imagine living with it, that what he can’t imagine living without are polar bears.”
Humans in 2167: Internet implants and no sleep – Bryan Gaensler, Down To Earth, 20170630
From an author who is affiliated to the University of Toronto, Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, comes a vision for the next 150 years that misses out on none of the classic memes of science fiction. Among the many excellent articles featured by Down To Earth this is one of incredible naiveté. Sorry for spoiling the party, but Earth is already going through the early stages of her sixth mass extinction to which humans are not exactly immune, while the future envisioned here simply extrapolates the destructive course of civilization into the next century as if there were infinite resources allowing for infinite growth on this finite planet. The article describes an impossible future that fails to amaze me with its dull promise of technological progress and a lifestyle that is completely devoid of meaning. I cannot find it “sad” at all that this “will never happen in the real world.”
Take it as a reminder that, despite the trillionfold pain afflicted to life’s community by visions like this, this is still the official story of Empire’s destiny and that, as long as you are dreaming of technological golden ages, you are literally asleep to what’s real.
There will be an extremely painful oil supply shortfall sometime between 2018 and 2020. It will be highly disruptive to our over-leveraged global financial system.”
The convergence of crises reaching its peak point.
Corrected satellite data show 30 percent increase in global warming – Jason Samenow, Washington Post, 20170630
Orbital mechanics and other overlooked factors influencing satellite observation led to a difference of 0.17°C in temperature measurements. The actual global average temperature thus amounts likely to around 1.7 to 2°C, depending on the baseline applied.
When ideas become a commodity public intellectuals like Chomsky have a hard time. On the other hand, though, hard times are the fertile ground on which ideas thrive organically. Out of all the confusion created by an overabundance of ratcatchers emerges a growing certainty;
What intellectuals need is the same as what everyone else needs: a society that prioritizes human flourishing over private profit, and strong political networks that guard public goods against the prophets of an atomized, high-tech future. However difficult that society may be to achieve, one thing about the present gives hope. We are finally getting clear about who its enemies are.”
Stop Fascism – Chris Hedges, 20170526
His Portland speech finds clear words for what civilization has done to the planet, calling for strong resistance to the madness which has taken over governments, corporations, and all of humanity’s institutions.

Pearls Before Swine

Personality; not just for people anymore – Carl Safina, Huffington Post, 20160828
Humans have human minds. But believing that only humans have minds is like believing that because only humans have human skeletons, only humans have skeletons,” the Stanford professor says.
He is talking about insights gained from wildlife observation, and I concur because my experience with farm animals like goats, cows, and chickens completely matches Safina’s descriptions.
We usually see “elephants”—or “wolves” or “killer whales” or “chimps” or “ravens” and so on—as interchangeable representatives of their kind. But the instant we focus on individuals, we see an elephant named Echo with exceptional leadership qualities; we see wolf 755 struggling to survive the death of his mate and exile from his family; we see a lost and lonely killer whale named Luna who is humorous and stunningly gentle. We see individuality. It’s a fact of life. And it runs deep. Very deep […] Humans are not unique in having personalities, minds and feelings.”
I find it important to stress that individuality does not equal separateness of the individual from her environment. But that is a story for another day.
After one became three: working the work that is love – Elizabeth Boleman-Herring, 20160822
An autobiographical account of one human being’s place in the web of life that is not about living in the green. A love story that is rather enchanting than romantic, addressing climate change without counting carbon molecules.
Darcia Narvaez – Derrick Jensen, Resistance Radio, 20160228
An interview with the professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame, IN, on child rearing in primitive and in civilized communities, and how the differences affect the moral development of human beings. To me this is one of the Wow! sources with regard to the human condition.
Grief and carbon reductionism– Charles Eisenstein, 20160203
Here is what I want everyone in the climate change movement to hear: People are not going to be frightened into caring. Scientific evidence-based predictions about what will happen 10, 20, or 50 years in the future are not going to make them care, not enough. What we need is the level of activism and energy that we are seeing now in Flint. That requires making it personal. And that requires facing the reality of loss. And that requires experiencing grief. There is no other way.”

Ruminants and methane: not the fault of the animals – Alan Broughton, Green Left Weekly, 20160115

I suspected as much. Something must be done about greenhouse gas emissions. But bovines are an integral part of Earth’s life community. If there is any harm in what they are doing it is the result of our abusive relationship to them. This goes not only for ‘cow farts’ but also for goats as desert makers, and other myths. Our hysteria with finding someone to blame for Earth’s predicament is twisting the discussion and hurts those who have done least to bring it about: subsistence farmers and their symbiotic species.

Earth has lost a third of arable land in past 40 years, scientists say– Oliver Milman, The Guardian, 20151202

Less destructive forms of forestry and nurturing kinds of food creation could do a lot to stop or even reverse the trend. But ask yourself: Can that happen within a system that depends on economic growth? Does morality have a chance below the bottom line of profit? Will we apply technology to restore what we have pushed off-balance for the sake of better technology? Can we ever prefer the well-being of other beings over our own as long as we believe in our own superior importance?
The courage to see, the power to choose – Joanna Macy, Naropa University, 20141017
What if we could look the pain, the suffering, the fear in the eye? Are we able to overcome the paralysis that befell us and do something about the rampaging injustice and the destruction of the living world? A celebration of the joy of being alive – and the grief that brings it about.
The space race is over – Paul Kingsworth, Global Oneness Project, 20140501
What is to be done about this? The answer to this question, as so often, seems to me to be personal rather than political. There is no way to prevent this society from Romanticizing progress and technology, and there is no way to prevent it coming down hard on visions of human-scale and ecological development. It will continue to do this until its own intellectual framework, and probably its physical framework, collapses under its own weight […]
But what we can do, when presented with a vision which projects an ideal onto either the future or the past, is examine our own personal need to be deluded […]
This is the work of a lifetime, but perhaps in the end it is the only work.”
The essay could have been written in response to the above-listed article about humans in 2167 but it is three years older and it can be applied to anything we identify with, from apocalyptic warrior to space age hero.
Adyashanti: complete interview– Global Oneness Project, 2009
The interviewee describes how in the development of human consciousness, there comes a shift from a sense of a separate self toward the experience of unity. He points out that the fear of losing our individual identity keeps us from making this shift. I’d have named this piece “On fear,” though it might as well be called “On activism.”

Cartoon

The train of civilization
“Last orders, please!”

Famous Last Words

Go shopping!

All nonsense

They say that if there is no money there is no motivation.
They say that if there is no competition there is no progress.
They say that if there is no fertilizer there is no fruit.
They say that if there is no hope there is no action.
Science has proven it?
I have proven, by living differently, that those assertions are wrong, and I dare everyone to repeat the experiment that has been successfully performed immeasurable many times over, by yourself.
Do not believe me, but do also not believe some corporate-paid strangers who claim experthood on how to live when all they have to offer is highly specialized knowledge in one narrow field of science.
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