Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Paths We Walk

Fear or concern for a lack for resources for our continued survival drives us towards community or tribalism. Whether individuals or corporate entities, all begin from this position.

One is a legitimate concern for a lack for resources for continued survival. This ultimately will lead to co-dependence and build Community. The belief that our pooled resources are more valued than our individual resources.

The other is the Fear of a perceived lack for resources - possibly motivated by error, paranoia, or greed. Ultimately the lack of resources in this case isn't real. It is based upon fear and the error that their resources are a commodity; that their resources make them powerful compared to others.

There is a difference between fear and concern, but in this early stage they are difficult in not impossibly to differentiate. Early on, I am sure both are true to some degree. It only becomes important when a direction of growth occurs. Either one can easily morph into the other in these early formative stages. But ultimately once their footing is established they will develop along distinctively difference paths.

A legitimate concern for a lack of resources necessary for continued survival will build Community. This kind of social structure will eventually begin non-zero-sum thinking. It will also see the introduction of a limited or conditional compassion. This is important because, further down the road, there's the potential for the birth of true Compassion.

A perceived fear of a lack of resources (or simply a desire for a surplus) will breed Tribalism. This kind of social structure views the world in zero-sum terms. It has no choice but to develop Envy. Not only coveting what another has (whether an individual or rival tribe) but believing the other's loss is somehow their gain.

It is important to understand that we are redefining the terms Community and Tribalism here to identify two separate paths of development. These paths can and do apply to individuals, institutions, and corporate entities. 
But it is critically important that we pause for a moment and thoroughly understand what is meant by "resources". 
Yes, most definitely "resources" can mean food & shelter. But it can also include safety & security, affection & love. Even a newborn baby finds itself in this position of 'being driven by fear and/or concern for a lack of resources towards community or tribalism'. Its mother's milk and safety and warmth & affection are the baby's "resources". Its community or tribe can be its mother's relationship and family. It can live in community with its siblings, or it can live in tribal competition with them. 
But "resources" can be expanded to include a great many things. Resources can be anything needed - or perceived to be needed - for continued survival. For example, from a religious industry point of view, Salvation could meet these criteria. After all, by this thinking, Salvation is needed for "continued survival". And if this resource is mistaken for a commodity (power), we are led well into Tribalism.
Continuing along this path from Tribalism and its zero-sum mindset, there is no other direction for development but eventually to embrace Envy. And as mentioned earlier, Envy not only allows oneself to justify why they deserve what another has, it also can allow them to rationalize why the other doesn't even deserve what it has. Envy is created by Fear and breeds hatred.

But the individual or group/institute/entity/etc. is not yet without hope. At some point - whether directly or indirectly - they will be forced to face the fact that this Envy is at their heart or center. It is at this point where Confusion enters.

Although existing in a state of Confusion is not good or healthy, there is at least the potential for change and growth.

It is at this point where two paths emerge.

One path (Reflection) reverses its direction. It identifies the unfounded Fear that initially created its tribalism, accepts the truth for what it is ("Dharma"), purges its Envy and Fear, and undoes it. It learns and grows and evolves in a more positive and healthy direction.

In its alternate path (Denial) it continues in its Confusion, in denial of the truth. It attempts to justify and keep its Envy. It will delude itself into believing in a mock-compassion in order to perpetuate the illusion of community; this mock-compassion being really little more than Pity. In reality it practices Pity and Envy but convinces itself that it is Compassion and Righteousness.

At this point their ability to lie to themselves is well established; they have believed their own lies and non-truths. They have entered an existence of Delusion.

Delusion, Envy, and Fear are the key operative demons, with each solidifying and strengthening the other. It is a difficult position to escape from, primarily because there is no desire to escape. Its defense is to have convinced itself that it is right and correct - no change is needed. (On a side note, I think this is what ails modern day Christianity. It has evolved down this path of Tribalism under the disguise of "Community". It has mistakenly justified its Pity as Compassion and Envy as Righteousness. Where it should have followed another path...)

These are the paths to Entrapment. These are the warnings we must be aware of and mindful of. But what is a better path? What is it that we should strive for?

Once we can find ourselves able to Reflect is the turning point.
It is the escape from a state of Confusion.
It is the beginning of the end of being Ego-centric.
It is at this point that we self-question, self-analyze, and when Doubt enters.
Contrary to much religious thought, Doubt is anything but a lack of faith. Doubt is hope. Doubt is the beginning of spiritual growth. It is the prerequisite to approaching The Mu Portal.  Without Doubt we cannot self-assess.
Once we can begin to purge our competitive habits - our Envy, Fear, Delusions - once we can clear the Confusion and abandon our Tribal zero-sum thinking and begin embracing true Compassion, "Dharma", and begin finding Solace for ourselves are we on a healthy and spiritually enriching path - not only for ourselves, but for all those around us.


This confusing and seemingly meandering path applies to everyone and everything. Whether they are individual beings, organized institutions, religions, businesses, social groups, or corporate entities. The paths we walk apply to our internal, individual journeys, as well as to how our communities function and grow or stagnate.
Only if we are aware of the paths we walk, do we have any hope to effect their directions.

Compassion & Envy - Dharma & Delusion

Unwholesome thoughts are those that (are not conductive to freedom and happiness, but rather) promote suffering.
Unwholesome thoughts (also called unskillful thoughts) are connected to selfish desire, hatred, or delusion.
Therefore, selfish desire, hatred, fear, envy, and (especially) delusion promote suffering.

There is a particular pattern of unskillful thinking ("unwholesome thoughts") that most of us regularly practice nearly instinctively. It is a manner of thought strongly encouraged by our competitive culture. (and also fosters zero-sum thinking).

We have the insidious habit of seeing how we measure up to other people ("comparing mind"). Our culture is obsessed with it and thrives on it.

The most damning effect of this 'comparing mind' is the unnecessary suffering it causes. Not only do we feel bad about ourselves, but we begin to wish ill upon others - sometimes to the point where we are willing to take actions to realize those wishes. This is the birth of Envy.

Not only is Envy a stumbling block and obstacle to Compassion, but Envy fetters Compassion.

Compassion is a form of empathy, but much more than that. Compassion is action. It will not just sympathize, it'll do something about it. To only sympathize is Pity. And Pity is a very pale reflection of Compassion.

What will block and impede Compassion is Envy. Yes, there is fear and jealousy, but Envy is much more dangerous and damaging. With Envy there is also the intent or desire - either directly or indirectly - to inflict misfortune or harm onto another. Not only do you desire what they have, you don't wnat them to have what you possess (because what you possess is a commodity and makes you powerful). It is Compassion's opposite and a stumbling block.

The capacity for compassion is our deepest nature as human beings. I believe we are all innately good.
(...and on a side note, I also think that doctrines like the Calvinists Total Depravity only further feeds Envy and slowly eliminates Compassion, allowing them to only - at best - show Pity).

Compassion does not require that we feel affection towards others. We can have compassion for our worst enemies. In fact, the very nature of true compassion might necessitate it. Compassion cannot be selective.

Compassion is not Pity, although the two are often easily confused. Pity is simply feeling sorry for someone who has to endure suffering, but pity keeps itself distance from suffering. Pity can't get past the element of fear; it's afraid of pain and suffering and wants to flee from its presence.

Compassion doesn't keep its distance. Compassion is willing to be with suffering up close and personal because it has learned to accept rather than resist pain.

Although Dharma is a Buddhist term, I don't see the concept as exclusively Buddhist. I believe the Buddhist's understand it and draw from it, but don't "own" it.

Dharma is our openness and willingness to accept the truth as we discover it. Our receptiveness to it and our ability to allow it lead us, rather than force it to fit our preconceived notions and agendas. Our willingness to allow it to change and direct ourselves rather than twist and coerce and manipulate it.

It is dealing with the struggle and tension between truth and fact. (as they are not the same things).

The truth never needs defending. This is Dharma. Only our truths needs defending. This is Delusion.

If we are open and aware and allow ourselves to be led where ever it is that the truth leads us, we consistently reduce the levels of delusion in our lives.

Delusion is Dharma's enemy.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Instinct vs. Impermanence

"When we attach ourselves to impermanent objects - sensations, thoughts, feelings, people, things - we are always left with the stress and grief of loss, because everything around us is always changing; it is always being pulled beyond our reach. Our grasping, our fighting against impermanence, results in loss and the suffering that comes with trying to hold on to the constantly changing reality. It's rather like trying to play tug-of-war with a much stronger opponent; we begin to lose, as we always will, we can choose to let go or to hold on and receive the "rope buns" of attachment. The survival instinct tells us to hold on; the Buddha urges us to let go."

"All unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and sensations are impermanent; trying to push them away is futile and results in stress, anger, and suffering. It's as if with our aversion we created a dam in the flow of experience. Rather than letting impermanence do its job, we block the passing of pain. We do this in a variety of ways - through suppression, avoidance  ignoring  self-medicating, or hardening the heart and closing down to life. Again, as a survival instinct aversion is necessary - we have to hate pain to survive - but it doesn't leave us with much freedom or happiness. when it comes to aversion, the survival-based life is a life of fear and loathing. Our instincts tell us to hate pain and try to get rid of it; the Buddha urges us to meet pain with mercy and compassion."

"We can all concede... that everything is impermanent... [T]he evolved human condition has resulted in a brain that creates a self. The sense of being a permanent fixed identity - a self - is a construction of the mind/body. Each one of us is a constantly evolving and unfolding process, not a fixed identity. This aspect of reality - that is, our own changing nature - seems to be at odds with the human survival instinct, so the mind creates a fixed identity that takes everything personally and clings to the notion of "I", "me", and "mind". But this solution is based on ignorance and a lack of investigation. Believing in a permanent self is like believing in a permanent rainbow. We all know that rainbows are temporary optical illusions based on the factors of sunlight, moisture, and heat. The environment creates each rainbow like a mind creates a self. Both creations are relatively real, in that we can genuinely experience them temporarily, but just as the factors that create the illusion (whether rainbow or self) arose, so will they also pass.  There is no permanent self; there is no permanent rainbow. It is not true to say that there is no self at all or that everything is empty or illusory, but it is true that everything is constantly changing and that there is no solid, permanent, unchanging self within the process that is life. Everything and everyone is an unfolding process."

Excerpts from "Wide Awake", by Noah Levine.