Sunday, July 31, 2011

The 10 Stages of Delusion That Go With the 10 Stages of Awakening

In Zen, the stages of awakening are known popularliy through the collection known as the "10 Oxherding Pictures." The 10 Oxherding pictures represent the natural stages of human consciousness finding its way back from delusion about its true condition to direct awareness of its true condition. There are various versions of the pictures, some with an elephant instead of an ox or water buffalo, some that have the stages identified differently (one 10-stage version ends with the empty circle and another 10-stage version has the empty circle as the 8th stage and ends with the 10th stage of "returning to the market place"), and there is an early version with only 8 stages ending in the empty circle.

If you are alert, you will have immediately noticed that there is a flip side to these stages that represents the original development which arrives in the condition of delusion where the 10 Oxherding pictures begin. And guess what? That side too has 10 stages, but they are very seldom discussed these days. Fortunately, Zen Master Guifeng Zongmi has already discussed them in several of his works from the 9th Century.

We don't need to get too worked up over the exact number of the stages or levels. The development is fluid and trying to define the boundaries between the stages is like trying to say on which day a child become a teen and a teen become an adult and exactly how many stages of human development are there from birth to death. Some of it is generally obvious and some of it generally obscure. Still, I think we can have a general consensus about the fact of human development and likewise we can approach the development of awakening with the same attitude of only requiring a general consensus of 10 stages, while remembering that having any consensus at all is useless if we don’t personally go through those stages in our own life.

In his preeminent work “Introduction to Zen” (also known as “Ch’an Preface" or "Chan Prolegomenon") written around 830, Zongmi presented his reciprocal stages of 10 each from Root Enlightenment to delusion and then from delusion to Buddhahood and Sudden or Immediate Enlightenment. Zongmi based his scheme on the widely known and esteemed “Discourse on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana.” It seems likely that Chinese Zen masters who adapted the 8 stages of the early Ox Herding pictures into the 10 stages format had either read Zongmi’s work or had been inspired in the same way as he had been by the “Awakening of Faith.”

Zongmi described the arising of delusion in 10 stages as the process of becoming a common or ordinary person, which I paraphrase, and to whiich I add the refrences to the Eight Consciousnesses and Five Skandhas, as follows.

1. All beings possess the true mind of root awakening. From our perspective of delusion this is called the Eighth Consciousness, i.e., the Storehouse Consciousness (alayavijnana) or (citta), while from the perspective of awakening it is the true suchness.

2. When the mind moves it moves in its sleep of non-awakening or unenlightenment. It moves in the dark so to speak as there is no reflection or spark of light. Out of the root of unity comes the separation of duality as a silent still string begins to vibrate with the first wave, but there is no self-awareness of the sound as yet. This is the stirring of the 8th Consciousness giving rise to the Seventh Consciousness, i.e., the Aware or Reflective Intelligence (manas), also called the Obscuring Ideation Consciousness (or Afflicted Ideation Consciousness) (klistamanovijnana) as it is the activity of discriminations.

3. Thoughts then arise as a result of the movement in the dark. This is like the light separating from the dark or the sound of the plucked string now vibrating the air surrounding it. This is the active functioning of the 7th Consciousness giving rise to the Sixth Consciousness, i.e., the Rational, Cognitive, or Ideation Consciousness (manovijnana).

4. The first intimations of a self-image appear as thoughts in their nascent or initial reflective function. Thoughts become aware (this is, awareness become condensed into thought) and its first activity is to be aware of the true mind of its own root awakening but through the filter of unenlightened activity that separates all awareness into the polarized duality of wave formations. Thus the first reflective sense of thought is to bifurcate itself and imagine itself as a “seer” or subject peering into the darkness of reality. This is the activity of the 6th Consciousness reflecting back on the 7th Consciousness.

5. From the position of a supposed “seer”, all things of awareness become sorted into the two categories of the “seer” and the “seen” and the so-called objective world of perceived objects appears. This is the 6th Consciousness stirring and reflecting on the Five Consciousnesses of the seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched.

6. Unaware that the appearance of objects seen of the 5 Consciousnesses has arisen from the thinking and polarizing activity of the our own mind (i.e, the 6th, 7th , & 8th Consciousnesses) we develop desires and aversions toward these imagined objects based on our constructed self-image embedded in our thinking process. This is the 6th Consciousness grasping at the 1st to 5th Consciousnesses as things of real existence.

7. Unaware that this grasping at and rejection of objects is based on our unconscious self-image, our framework of distinctions between subject and objects becomes fixated and aggrandizes the subject giving rise to an orientation to reality that is self-grasping or egocentric and called attachment to self. This is the activity of the 6th Consciousness discriminating every thing within the 1st to 5th Consciousness in reference to the constructed image seen by reflection in the 7th Consciousness.

8. Based on the intrinsic interactivity of our self-image, attachment to objects and attachment to self we then manifest an active relationship to all things within awareness and fall into clinging to our body of four elements (First Skandha) as our physical self, and fixating our attitudes of feelings and perceptions (Second and Third Skandhas) into polarized frames of reference that bring all things (dharmas) into its field. This activity of this polarized field is called the activity of the Three Poisons and the world of afflictions. Our 6th Consciousnesses relates to all things in light of its consciousness being colored by these three: desiring and loving, hating and despising, and the ignorance of confusion and delusion.

9. From this fixation of the first three Skandhas, the Fourth Skandha of mental configurations becomes fixated and our 6th Consciousness acts with a sense of relation to a solid self, which is actually a misidentification of the true mind of root awakening. On the basis of these mental configurations formed by the three poisons into the building blocks of our fixed identity that then molds and characterizes our sense of volition and intention, our actions (karma) arise to generate consequential light and dark results, that is, results that our identity structure categorizes as “good or bad” karma, “beneficial or unbeneficial” karma.

10. Once the karma-activity arises it follows its natural and determined course (in what we could call the gravity-well of Dharma), and we experience the consequences accordingly. The consequences of our karma-activity are inescapable from this stage, and they become manifested within the spectrum of the six frames of reference that are called the six paths of the wheel of birth and death, i.e., hellish, hungrily haunted, bestial, human, titanic, or heavenly.

The reciprocal path from this 10th stage of ordinary delusion (“all the world’s a stage”) to awakening is what is pictured in the 10 Ox-herding pictures.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Song for a Sweet Saturday Morning (or some other time)

This is one of my Top 10 originals on YouTube. It is an exceptional acoustic version of Jimi Hendrix's song 1983 (A merman I should turn to be). The only problem with it is that it ends abruptly.

Here's the link 1983 (A merman I should turn to be)

Here are the lyrics for those who don't know the song.

Hurray I awake from yesterday
Alive but the war is here to stay
So my love catherina and me
Decide to take our last walk thru the noise to the sea
Not to die but to be reborn
Away from the lands so battred and torn
Forever forever

Oh say can you see it's really such a mess
Every inch of earth is a fighting nest
Giant pencil and lipstick-tube shaped things
Continue to rain and cause screamin' pain
And the arctic stains from silver blue to bloody red
As our feet find the sand
And the sea is straight ahad
Straight up ahead

Well it's too bad that our friends can't be with us today
Well it's too bad
The machine that we built
Would never save us that's what they say
That's why they ain't comin' with us today
And they also said it's impossible
For a man to live and breathe undrerwater
Forever was a main complaint
Yeah and they also threw this in my face they said
Anyway you know good and well
It would be beyond the will of god
And the grace of the king
Grace of the king


So my darling and I make love in the sand
To salute the last moment ever on dry land
Our machine it has done it's work played it's part well
Without a scratch on our body when we bid it farewell
Starfish and giant foams greet us with a smile
Before our heads go under we take our last look at the killing noise
Of the out of style
The out of style out of style oh yeah

So down and down and down and down we go
Hurry my darlin' we mustn't be late
For the show
Neptune champion games to an aqua world is so my dear
Right this way smiles a mermaid
I can hear atlantis full of cheer
Atlantis full of cheer
I can hear atlantis full of cheer
Oh yeah


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Householder Zen Lineages

I recently had my attention drawn to a blog at the Wild Fox Zen blog titled "What the Heck is a Zen Priest?" that was written just about a year ago. The topic is one that will remain current for many years to come as it is about the development of Zen in the West and the role of Zen priests or monastics in the transplantation of Zen to the West.

Here are some thoughts that blog has stimulated.

In Siddhartha Gotama's time the priests, known as Brahmins, were part of the ruling class structure that Siddhartha the Buddha walked away from. The Buddha Dharma was about stepping outside the caste structure and its hierarchy. Buddha became a wandering mendicant called a “bhikkhu” or more politely a “sramana.” The samanas would congregate around well known teachers (sattha). Siddhartha Gotama studied under several satthas and especially with two such satthas of great renown. When two wandering sramanas met on the road, their customary greeting was not to ask “How are you?” but “Who is your Master (Sattha)?” “Whose Dharma do you find most agreeable to you?” or “What is the Dharma you have adopted?”

Thus there were no sects per se, but there were networks of followers of one Master (Sattha) or Dharma or another. The wandering almsmen (Pali bhikkhus, Sanskrit bhiksus) and women (bhikkhunis, bhiksunis) would follow a teacher as long as their Dharma was agreeable and if they found it lacking they could find another teacher whose Dharma was more agreeable. This was the same pattern that Siddhartha followed when he moved from teacher to teacher, Dharma to Dharma.

When Gotama became a Buddha and so became a teacher himself, he became known as a Great Master ([i]Mahasattha[/i]) and more and more wanderers found his Dharma to be most agreeable to them and so they formed a network of samanas around him.
To other sramanas outside of his Dharma, his followers were known as the “Sramanas of the Son of the Sakyas” (Sakyaputtiya Samanas), but the Buddha’s followers called themselves by the more simple name of the “Guild (or Union) of Bhikkhus” (the Bhikkhu sangha).

Thus the Buddha did not directly challenge the caste system but instead set up an alternative “system” based on the craftsmen-guild model called the sangha. At the time, the social culture and structure was that a craft sangha was allowed to police itself so that the members of the craft’s sangha would answer for wrongdoing to the craft sangha instead of to the public authorities. As long as the craft sangha showed a real system of laws of good conduct and enforcement of those laws, the sangha was allowed to have their own separate system of keeping their members in order without being subject to civil authority. By establishing his band of followers in the sangha model the Buddha was able to set his sramana followers apart outside the jurisdiction of the usual civil authorities.

It is interesting that this development of the sangha model led to the confusion between the followers of the Buddha Dharma (i.e, the greater sangha or mahasangha) and the Bhikkhu sangha. There were four recognized groups of the followers: the male bhikkhus and female bhikkhunis (collectively referred to with the male term bhikkhus as the inclusive) and the male and female householders. The Bhikkhu sangha had to be developed as a separate institution to provide the institutional protection and insulation from the civil authorities while the householder sangha continued under the jurisdiction of the civil government (regardless of whether the civil government was a monarchy or republic). However by developing its own institutional identity the Bhikkhu sangha then came to usurp the greater sangha and to call itself “The” sangha and relegated the role of the householder side of the greater sangha to the status of merely providing physical support for “The” sangha, i.e., the Bhikkhu sangha comprised of the bhikkhus and bhikkhunis.

So it is ironic that the Buddha Dharma in adopting the Bhikkhu sangha model in order to be free of civil laws and authority and the caste system had to establish its own internal laws and authority, and thus an internal system of hierarchy that was every bit as structured and rigid as the caste system. Of course the Buddha’s Bhikkhus sangha was patterned as a meritocratic seniority system rather than the inherited birthright caste system. The Bhikkhu sangha system with its two values of meritocracy and seniority has a built-in tension between the seniority rights and privileges of the members of the Bhikkhu sangha and the recognition of the meritocracy of a member’s personal awakening to the Buddha Dharma.

In our current societies, this irony is now represented by a priestly caste within the greater sangha in the same way. One response to this dilemma as it was recognized in Japan in the 20th century, was by Yatsutani Hakuun Roshi, who, with the blessing of his teacher Harada Sogaku Roshi, set up a Zen lineage outside the priestly caste system called the Sanbo Kyodan. One of the hallmarks of this new branch of the Zen lineage was that it was not controlled by the modern version of the Bhikkhu sangha found in the Japanese priest system but was to be a wing of the greater sangha that is “of, by, and for” the householder or so-called “lay” sangha. This was the creation of a householder sangha that recognized that the religious aspirations and realizations of householders was every bit the equal to those of the “ordained” when it comes to maintaining the true Buddha Dharma. In the Sanbo Kyodan Zen lineage the ideal is that teachers become recognized purely on the meritorious basis of their realization and ability to teach, not on their seniority as a priest or monastic.

This new Zen lineage was accepted widely in the West by and through the numerous authorization and certification of Westerners as Roshis (literally “old teachers”). Though in this process, some lineages, such as the Diamond Sangha stemming from Robert Aiken Roshi and others, became institutionally independent of the Sanbo Kyodan, all lineages stemming from the Sanbo Kyodan continue to maintain the practice of being a householder Zen lineage not dominated by a priest or bhikkhu class.

This does not mean that the new householder Zen lineage is inherently disparaging of the priest or bhikkhu sangha, but that there is an assertion of independent equality for householders. This independent but equal status was actualized by Yatsutani Roshi himself when, at the same time that he established the Sanbo Kyodan for housholder Zen, he continued to work with Zen priests such as Taizan Maezumi Roshi whom he certified (inka) as a lineage holder of his koan practice lineage.

Zen in the West is developing on these two separate but related tracks that have crisscrossed, that of the priest controlled lineages of traditional Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese Zen and the lay or householder controlled lineages. In this new Western context, some of the priestly or bhikku ordained teachers or roshis of the most conservatively priest or monastic dominated Zen lineages have actually authorized lay or non-priest teachers within their lineages, such as Chan Master Sheng Yen who, prior to his death in 2009, had authorized both monastic and lay Dharma heirs.

In this continuing Western evolution of householder-centric Zen lineages alongside monastic- or priest-centered Zen lineages, how the two branches will grow in relation to each other and whether they become synergistic or competitive is yet to be determined. At the present time the competitive aspect of these two branches of Zen lineages is minimal, but given our human proclivity for discriminating the One Mind into sectarian competition, it remains to be seen whether the stress of developing resources and organizing students affects the continuing relationships between monastic-centered Zen and householder-centered Zen.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Difference Over Israel Is Not A Difference Between Being Left Or Progressive.

I agree with Michael A. Dover's comment on Portside that
"It is important to recognize that what is progressive at any one point in history is not necessarily what seems most 'left'."
Many progressives and leftists have never attempted to discern the differences arising from their common ground of honest concern for the welfare of humanity over the welfare of the wealthy.

So how do we tell the difference? In a pinch, a leftist is more concerned about being on the "left side" than anything else. Leftists have the highest regard for their ideological position as a shared value and base their sense of personal integrity on remaining true to the team's point of view. Any deviation from their leftist positioning is seen as betrayal of "Team Left." This sense of honor and faith to the collective base is what makes leftists feel pride in their sense of selflessness. The ideology as a determining factor is always set within a social context in which the consensus about what is left approach is the most important. This high value on the group also places great stress on the group's cohesion, and leads to the fracturing of group identity, such as the well known stereotype of Stalinists verses Trotskyites.

In the same pinch a progressive will ask, "In this situation what will lead to progress toward the betterment of the human situation?" This is a coherent ideal rather than a consistent ideology. As an ideal, the progressive is moved by a guiding star rather than a leftist's guidebook, so that individual's orientation to the situational betterment of the human condition is the central concern. The progressive's main concern is about progress toward betterment of the condition of the most (rather than the conservative's concern for the betterment of the condition for the "best" and the "fewest", i.e., themselves), but the progressive's group betterment goal is set within the personal value of letting people personally define how they are guided by their own star rather than a group consensus upon which constellation to follow. Of course, the downside for progressives is that group integration in a common strategy is weakened as each person is led by the sound of their own drummer when stepping toward progress. The images of herding cats or carrying frogs into a wheelbarrow are appropriate stereotypes for getting progressives to actually do practical political work.

So while leftists and progressives instantly see their shared value of working toward the betterment of the human condition for the widest number of humans possible, they often move away from each other when it comes to putting boots, loafers, sandals, sneakers, and high heels on the ground to march, walk, hike, jog, or stroll toward this goal.

How does this apply to the Israel-Palestine situation? The leftist will have a rule and apply it, and here the general rule is that oppression is always bad and must be aggressively opposed. However, when Israel is the case to which the rule is applied the team factor comes into play. For the mainstream Jewish Left and those who are their close friends, Israel in its very nature is a product of left thinking and the very existence of Israel is a continuing living example of the fight against oppression generally and the oppression of the Jews specifically. Any act that undermines Israel is therefore seen as an act against the left view that fights oppression. Any charge against Israel is discounted on the basis that Israel is protecting itself against the oppression of the attacks on its existence. Of course on the other hand, there is an International Left that reads the current facts as trumping the historical facts, and finds the current oppression of Palestinians by the Israel government and its forces to be just one more example of oppression by the powerful against the weak that now also must be diligently opposed. In this situation, the two versions of what is the true left position will be at odds while both claim to be on the left against oppression.

Similarly, progressives find themselves at odds over how to respond to Israel's behavior. Mainstream Jewish progressives and their close friends will argue that the hope for the betterment of the most people in the Middle East rests upon the continued existence of Israel as a neighborhood example of democracy and human rights. However, progressives with no personal attachment to Israel see the situation quite differently and say that there is no human argument that can condone the current oppression of the millions of Palestinians, and that the progressive thing to do to better the condition of the most in the Middle East is to clearly oppose Israel's oppression of the Palestinians. In this view, Israel is only a sham democracy and is running a con-game when it comes to protecting "human rights" as opposed to merely protecting the economic and military power of Israel.

From the perspective of this analysis, the main difference is not between the left and progressives as between those Jewish Left-Progressives (and their friends) who continue to equate Israel as the protector of Jewish identity as being against oppression and the rest of the left and progressives who see the government of Israel as the central betrayer of Jewish identity and values. I see no way to avoid this very unpleasant and inconvenient conclusion.

I identify my position as being a radical progressive of the kind that says the government of Israel has betrayed the core values against oppression. (Of course it is an open question of history whether or not those values were ever really in play on the ground as Israel was created by the forced ethnic cleansing as the USA was also created, but that is not the issue here.) The international ideal that legitimatized the creation of Israel by the UN was the simple value of protecting people from oppression. Israel has now clearly betrayed that value by oppressing the Palestinian people through collective punishment, committing social atrocities in the building of settlements, and other such oppressions. It is now time that Israel as a government and a nation either (1) guarantee that value against oppression equally for the Palestinians or (2) cease to have any continuing international legitimacy to exist.

Though the human mind has an infinite capacity to rationalize, I see no rationalization that can overcome the plain fact that Israel and the USA are not permitting the people in the Palestinian territories to exist as a sovereign nation.

Honestly, the Palestinians themselves have made a shambles of trying to work together for their freedom, but their inability to do so is understandable when it is seen in the context of their captivity (figuratively and concretely speaking) by Israel. When people are in prison and divided by their captors and guards, it is very difficult to work together effectively. This is why we see ethnic gangs in prisons fighting each other rather than working collectively against the guards and wardens, and it is precisely why the prison authorities keep the prison factionalism alive in order to prevent a concerted action by the inmates against their guards who are vastly outnumbered.

Ultimately, what the UN gave, the UN should be able to take away. UN Generral Assembly Resolution no. 181 of 1947, and subsequent related resolutions, put into effect the previous intent of the League of Nations when creating the "Mandate for Palestine" in 1922. UN Resolution no. 181 recognized that the Mandate of Palestine should be divided into two nations one as a Jewish State and one as an Arab State. The context for the Palestinian request for recognition as a nation and continuing implementation of Resolution no. 181 and its progeny, should be the inherent power of the UN to pass a resolution under its parliamentary plenary power to amend or even repeal its prior resolutions including No. 181. In other words, if Israel and the USA continue to oppose and thwart the recognition of a sovereign nation for the Palestinians and continue to violate Resolution no. 242 by military occupation and blockade, then Resolution no. 181 should be repealed and recognition of Israel should be removed.

I continue to believe that the Palestinians have the best chance for a common sovereignty if they recognize the separate statehood of Gaza and the West Bank and form a federal connection as the expression of their unity rather than attempting to establish a single state with a single government. The fact of their territorial separateness cannot be ignored and just as the different states of the USA allow for a certain amount of both local control and local experimentation, so too will separate states in a unified federal system allow the Palestinians to have the best of local organization and common identity and citizenship. So far, I have not heard of any practical steps in this direction, though I am admittedly a world away from hearing what the insiders are planning in Palestine. However, if they want to have world opinion on their side when the question of their sovereignty comes before the UN, then it would behoove them to have a very practical plan for their nationhood status to present in order to inspire confidence.

At a minimum, their "Outline for Nationhood" should include the following proposals of trust:

1. Declare that the new nation of Palestine will consist of two states of contiguous geographical integrity, i.e., the West Bank and Gaza, bound together in a federal unity.

2. Affirm that there will be a federal constitution defining the powers of the federal government, including issues of legislative, judicial, executive, monetary, military, diplomatic, citizenship, etc., and there will be separate state constitutions for the functioning of the two states within their federal unity.

3. Establish a general timeline for the creation of the constitutions.

4. Ratify the importance of human rights with a statement of commitment to the principles spelled out in the UN's Universal Declaration on Human Rights and promise that the new Palestinian nation will protect the human rights of its citizens regardless of ethnic or religious identity.

5. Recognize the six basic principles of democracy: (1) The people are sovereign; (2) The people exercise their sovereignty by the rule of law not individuals, cliques, or juntas; (3) The people govern by majority rule; (4) The majority rule is constitutionally limited by minority rights; (5) The governance structure has a separation of powers so that no one branch or government function has all the power; and (6) The governance system has checks and balances to prevent the abuse of power between or within the branches from becoming tyrannical. And that within these "ground rules" of democracy the people of Palestine will create their constitutions and government structure.

6. Affirm that the new nation of Palestine will accept and abide by the unanimously approved UN Security Council Resolution no. 242 of 1967, and affirm that as soon as Israel withdraws its armed forces from the occupied territories as referenced in Resolution no. 242 and ends the blockade of Gaza, then the provisional government of Palestine will officially recognize the territorial inviolability and political independence of Israel according to Resolution no. 242.

If the Hamas and Fatah political organizations can agree on an Outline for Nationhood with a provisional governmental authority, then as soon as they have that agreement, and without waiting for the UN vote of recognition, they should send out diplomatic envoys to all the nations of the world asking for individual diplomatic recognition of Palestinian sovereignty and the provisional government. France has already recognized the Provisional Transitional National Council of Libyan rebels as the rightful Libyan regime. A transitional government of Palestine would have a much greater justification for receiving recognition. By demonstrating their ability to function as a sovereign nation and seek diplomatic recognition on their own without prior approval, the Palestinians would create greater pressure on the UN as a body to officially recognize the nation of Palestine and provide the necessary assistance for the nation building that will be required after the devastation wrought by Israel.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Is There an Afterlife?

This is a response to what was called a debate on the question "Is There an Afterlife?" Here's the blurb from the website

In this recent Whizin Center for Continuine Education program, leading advocates for atheism, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris square off against Newsweek top rabbis, David Wolpe and Bradley Artson Shavit to determine what may or may not happen in the hereafter.

The possibility of an afterlife has challenged believers and atheists alike for centuries. Because its very nature defies conclusive definitions or proof, it remains a heated topic for debate and exploration. This debate is moderated by the Editor-in-Chief of the Jewish Journal, Rob Eshman.

There is a bit of false advertising in the claim that this is a “debate” about the afterlife. It’s not. It’s a beating around the bush with all four speakers dodging the main question.

As a Buddhist I would say that none of the four speak of the afterlife in the terms that are relevant to me. They don’t seem to be speaking from experience, and instead all four are speaking about what they “trust” to be true by their intellectual speculation and dualistic modes of thinking.

In this debate, either the Rabbis didn't do their homework or they decided to stay on the defensive, as neither Rabbi directly challenges the bloodlust for the American Empire espoused by Hitchens and Harris in their written works. My guess is that there was some kind of pre-debate agreement that the Rabbis would not attack Hitchens and Harris directly and in exchange no one would mention how Israel is oppressing and killing people in the name of religion.

The dilemma of dealing with Hitchens and Harris is that they have their soft targets which they attack successfully and then they dodge away from the real issues and hard problems.

Hitchens rightly challenges the immature anthropomorphism and personification of a literal fantasy of God as a person with arms and legs and a long bearded “father” figure. That childish fantasy can be punctured but it doesn’t amount to anything.

Hitchens approaches intellectual honesty when he says, “Survival of consciousness independent of the brain is different from religious belief in a mandated path you can either follow or not follow for reward or punishment.” But if that is so, then he is acknowledging that he is avoiding the real subject of the former when he is attacking the misunderstandings of the latter.

Hitchens and Harris are essentially making a straw man argument by attacking institutional religion as if the religious aspiration in people is responsible for the conduct of the devils running the institution. If so, then that is also a great argument for abolishing democracy because of the devils running the USA today. The two rabbis David Wolpe and Bradley Artson Shavit apparently are not in a position to talk about the abuses, torture, and holocaust committed by our government in the name of democracy, since, as stated above, it might also lead to a discussion of the abuses committed by Israel. The problem of bastards and bullies running the government is a human problem that has nothing to do with whether the institution that controls the government is called democracy, communism, or the church.

Rabbi Shavit is right to point out the “worst compared to best” style of argument used by Hitchens is a rhetorical trick. With the comment that people “hold on to hopes that orient us” the conversation could have turned to the real question of how the symbol-systems, whether religious or not, orient people in a manner that gives them mutual identity and the ability to band together and become a society. The fact that there is an anthropomorphic patriarchal symbol of “God” or “His Majesty the King” or “Uncle Sam” or “Marx” at the center of the symbol-system is more determinative of it becoming and exploitive power hungry government than any religious sentiment. There is no qualitative moral difference in the basic sentiments of Moses, Jesus or Marx but each of their respective symbol-systems became controlled by people who couldn’t care less about the moral sentiments of the men who inspired the symbol-system..

The problem for this program is that the question “Is there an afterlife?” is addressed from very different frames of reference. All four, in their own way, answer the question “We can’t say if there is or not.” Hitchins and Harris reframe the question as “Is the supernatural fantasy of God in Heaven believable?” Rabbis David Wolpe and Bradley Artson Shavit turn the question into “Is belief in an afterlife beneficial to some people and if so then it doesn’t matter if it is true?” Both attempts to reframe the question are dodges.

Since Hitchens and Harris are really on a crusade against “religion,” which they define as belief in a supernatural anthropomorphic God, they always turn the issue to the past misdeeds of totalitarian religions. In other words, Hitchens and Harris dodge the question of “Is there and afterlife” by saying “when religion is in control they are bad, so anything said by those religionists must be false.”

Hitchens and Harris rest their position on the view that “religion is man made” and therefore it is false. I agree with them that piercing the self-delusional veil of those who believe their own religion comes from the “real God” while everyone else’s religion is only “man made” is a worthwhile goal, but Hitchens and Harris themselves go about this crusade with as much intellectual dishonesty and self-delusion of their own. Chris Hedges has written about their hypocrisy in his article “The Dangerous Atheism of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris” with which I largely agree. (There are significant features of Hedges' article with which I disagree, but they are about his own pessimistic view of human nature, not his criticism of Hitchens and Harris.)


If I had been on stage, I would have answered the question by saying plainly, “Yes. There is an afterlife and this is it.”

At one point Harris nearly approached this issue when he spoke about sleep to point out that every night we fall asleep into the oblivion of consciousness. However, Harris failed to get to the logical observation that we don’t go around fretting about “Is there an after-day?” Harris and the others missed this essential point.

We are certain of tomorrow because of our memories of yesterday. Yet we have no real certainty of tomorrow since anyone of us may not in fact live to see tomorrow if we die in our sleep, as any of us could were an airplane to fall from the sky. And though we have no absolute certainty of tomorrow, we have the certainty that today is the after-day of yesterday, and upon this certainty we rest our great confidence in the after-day of tomorrow.

Likewise, this life is the afterlife of the previous life, and our next life will be the after life of this life. The only difference between afterlives and after-days is our memory. We don’t remember all of our yesterdays, but we remember enough of them so that we can put together a symbol-system for our expectation of the days to come. For anyone who has accessed the memory of a past life and discovered that this life is the afterlife of previous lives, the certainty of an afterlife after this life becomes as certain as tomorrow is to today.

Yes, the certainty is “man made” but so what? Every bit of human understanding, including science, is “man made” because we are humans who understand by making symbol systems. The question that Hitchens and Harris want to get to by the threshold admission of one’s symbol system being “man made” is then to what degree does the symbol system comport with reality? And here’s the rub. Hitchens and Harris are advocates and proselytizers for the symbol system of science and as such refuse to acknowledge how their “reality” is also “man made.”

They believe that there is an objective “reality” that science is merely describing to the best of its current ability. They think that within this framework, they can hold up their scientific truths against the zany religious truths that have been promulgated and they win. However, as one of the Rabbis in the debate pointed out, there have been many zany propositions in the name of science and that doesn’t make the scientific endeavor worthless.

The fundamental delusion upon which Hitchens and Harris operate their road show is their claim that there is only one reality, the one that they say there is. They do not acknowledge that the reality that religion is attempting to negotiate, describe, and understand is not the physical reality of matter but the psychic reality of what is variously called spirit, soul, mind, consciousness, etc. While I agree that there is only one reality, like the claim of only one God, that reality (and that God) appears very different to the different people who are taking different perspectives.

Our understanding of “matter” is constantly changing and so there is no one view of matter held by science any more than there is one view of God held by religion. The point that we should be able to agree on is that we should not demand that other people take our point of view. To the extent that Hitchens and Harris are asking people with firmly held points of view about their God to let others be, then they have a message I can agree with. But to the extent that Hitchens and Harris ridicule people’s religion today because of the folly of the past, then they are committing the same sin they claim to oppose.

Underlying the quest for the answer to the question “Is there an afterlife?” is the angst caused by the very notion of time existing as past, present, and future. Any religion that wants to help people with this question of an afterlife must address the issue of time. When we look at time as past, present, and future we are taking ourselves out of time as if we exist in relation to time as a thing carried along the river of time. But in fact time is our very being. We are not external to time. We are the embodiment of time and time is another name for spirit, soul, God, consciousness, etc. We are no more outside of time than we are outside of God or mind. When we truly realize this there is a qualitative change in our sense of time and the generalized angst about the future is dissolved. At the same time, the issue of an afterlife is resolved by knowing that we are time itself and so we are the afterlife in this present moment.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Confused Voice of the American Empire

I'm in favor of the flotilla of ships sailing under the umbrella of the Free Gaza Campaign. I especially like the punning irony that one of the lead ships is named "The Audacity of Hope" in direct reference to President Obama's autobiographical book that now has been shown by his actions to be nothing more than political rhetoric and propaganda.

Let's be honest, Israel's illegal blockade of Gaza, as collective punishment of a people, has turned Gaza into the largest prison in the world, and I have pointed this out in several previous posts on this blog.

The Consul General of Israel in New York, Ido Aharoni, interviewed yesterday on Democracy Now! brought out all the old lame rationalizations and canards to defend the blockade. Basically, the official Israeli position is that, since Hamas are the bad guys and we are the good guys, we can do whatever we want against them.

Among the interesting tidbits of the interview was that Mr. Aharoni refused to plainly deny that Israeli spies sabotaged several ships of the flotilla. He dodged and weaved to avoid answering the question, and instead tried to turn the question away from the sabotage to claim the flotilla was "not legitimate." In "diplomatic-speak" not answering the question and instead providing as an answer the rationalization why the act in question would have been valid if it had been done simply amounts to an admission.

One particularly egregious and hurtful rationalization proffered by Mr. Aharoni was that Israel has "practically handed over the keys to Gaza. Hamas, instead of turning it into an oasis, turned it into a safe haven for terrorists." To say this is so stupid that it only shows the depth of Israeli self-delusion. First, there is not one shred of evidence that Gaza is "a safe haven for terrorists" from anywhere else in the world. So what Israel is calling "a safe haven for terrorists" merely translates into "a safe haven for Palestinians who continue to fight against the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people" which by Israeli definition is the meaning of "terrorist." In other words, Israel can bomb Gaza and kill thousands of unarmed men, women, and children and Israelis have not become terrorists, but if only one Palestinian from Gaza dares to attack Israel then every Gazan is a terrorist.

But second, is the most insulting claim that suggests the people of Gaza could have turned it into "an oasis" while they were given "the keys" to their prison. This is the point that the Gazans are complaining about! The keys that they were given were only the keys to the cells, not to the prison gates. Israel still has the keys to the prison gates and is blockading the traffic in and out of the prison just like the Soviet Union blockaded the traffic in and out of Berlin in June 1948. The Soviet Union knew that if they controlled the food and fuel going in and out of Berlin that they would have practical control over the city.

Today the Israelis are using the same tactic to control Gaza by controlling what goes in and out of the city. How do Israeli officials dare to cay that Gaza could have been turned into an oasis when Israel controls what goes in and out of the Gaza and Israel does not allow any of the building materials to enter Gaza that would be necessary to build the oasis? Israel is just the prison warden saying why haven't the prisoners sewn new clothes when the warden won't let sewing machines or even needles into the prison because they could be used to make weapons.

Mr. Aharoni also stated that since the flotilla could have been sent to the Egyptian port of El Arish that there was no reason to attempt to dock at a port in Gaza and that to go to Gaza directly is "to create a provocation that is unneeded and will endanger the lives of all the people involved." But what danger is there? Only the danger created by the Israeli Navy itself when it plans to attack the flotilla! This is the age old lunacy of the perpetrator of a crime telling the victim that it is the victim's own behavior that is making them commit the crime. This Israeli logic is the very same logic used by al Queda to claim that the USA provoked the attacks on the Twin Towers.

There is not the slightest provocation in sailing a ship to Gaza except that created by the Israelis themselves. Israel is holding the people of Gaza hostage. What provocation is there in attempting to go speak directly with the hostages? Clearly, only the provocation created by the hostage taker who says you can't go meet directly to the hostages.

While we can understand how a hostage taker would think that speaking directly with his hostages would be "provocative" by calling into question the very legitimacy of the hostage taking, I see no justification for the USA to agree that there is provocation except to the same degree that the USA is in fact a co-conspirator with the hostage takers. No less of an official of the USA than our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has now plainly spoken to announce that the USA has taken sides with the hostage taking Israelis.

Here's an excerpt from a recent Q&A with Madam Secretary Clinton that highlights how the USA Empire is protecting its crony Israel:

QUESTION: And also, Madam Secretary, there’s reports that another flotilla may be headed to Gaza within the next couple days. What is your message to the organizers and participants in that? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we do not believe that the flotilla is a necessary or useful effort to try to assist the people of Gaza. Just this week, the Israeli Government approved a significant commitment to housing in Gaza. There will be construction materials entering Gaza and we think that it’s not helpful for there to be flotillas that try to provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves.

First, the USA is acknowledging that Israel, not Gaza, is in control of what can go in and out of Gaza. From Secretary Clinton's view, echoing the view of the Soviet Union in 1948, what problem could there be with a blockade when the blockading power that controls what is going in and out allows a pittance of materials in? In 1948 the USA knew the answer to that question and joining with the UK and other Western Allies organized the Berlin Airlift to break the blockade. Today the USA, like the Soviet Union then, is on the side of blockade, and instead of joining with other nations to break the blockade of Gaza the USA has become the greatest supporter of the blockade outside of Israel. Without the USA's support the blockade of Gaza simply could not be maintained.

Second, Secretary Clinton is claiming that the flotilla is the one being "provoking" by creating the situation! Again, it is Israel holding the hostages and defending the blockade! Attempts to break the blockade by going directly to the hostages may be provoking to the hostage takers, but until the USA admits that this is a hostage situation, what basis is there for the USA to even raise the spectre of provocation by those attempting to break the blockade? If the USA were to say, and mean it, "We are negotiating with the hostage takers to release the hostages and if they do not release the hostages within 60 days, then we will be begin the airlift to break the blockade, and in the mean time separate attempts such as this flotilla are counter productive." Then and only then, would Secretary Clinton's remarks make any sense whatsoever.

Third, and most revealing of the current situation, is the erroneous claim by Secretary Clinton that the flotilla would be "entering into Israeli waters." This is either just plain confusion on the part of Secretary Clinton or is an unintentional acknowledgement by a highest official of the US government that the USA recognizes Israel's national claim to the whole of Palestine, i.e., including Gaza and the West Bank, as being Israeli territory. Anyone who looks at a map of Gaza will see that it is on the shore line of the Mediterranean Sea. As such, according to international laws the territorial waters of Israel do not lie off the coast of Gaza, only off the coast of Israel. The first 12 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza, are the territorial waters of Gaza, and outside this 12 mile zone are the international water with the 200 nautical miles off the coast being the exclusive economic zone of Gaza.

Therefore, the territorial waters off Gaza are in no way "Israeli waters" as Secretary Clinton now openly claims, unless Gaza is a territory of Israel. In other words, in the eyes of Secretary Clinton, Israel is not blockading the territorial waters of Gaza but is merely policing its own territorial waters. By this sleight of hand regarding international law the USA rationalizes it's public delusion that there is no "blockade" and therefore no reason to break the non-existent blockade. So Secretary Clinton's remarks have opened the curtain on the wizard lurking behind to reveal that the USA does indeed support Israel's national claim to Gaza.

The importance of this revelation is that it reveals that what is behind the refusal of the USA to acknowledge Israel's foot dragging on peace accords is that the USA accepts that Israel has no long term intention to ever allow Gaza and the West Bank to become a sovereign nation. The now stated official USA position is that the territorial waters off Gaza are "Israeli waters," so the USA is recognizing Israel's assertion of its national sovereignty over Gaza.

I have previously blogged about my view that because of Israel's refusal to negotiate in good faith for the recognition of the sovereignty of Gaza and the West Bank, that the Palestinians should not delay any longer and should declare their independent sovereignty today, even if it meant a three-state solution to get it done. At the time, I could not foresee that the Hamas and Fatah factions would be able to work together. Today, under the pressure of the Palestinian people in light of the "Arabian Spring," Hamas and Fatah have a fragile accord which may or may not last. While it lasts they have a tentative plan to seek acknowledgment of Palestinian sovereignty by appeal to the UN. I understand this tactic and think that it is a valid tactic, even though I do not agree with it. In my view, there is no reason for the UN to acknowledge the sovereignty of a people who have not yet declared it for themselves. A clear and definite voice of independence by the people of Gaza and the West Bank is needed to counteract the voice of the American Empire that speaks only to cause confusion in the minds of other member nations of the UN.

If the Palestinians want to be taken seriously as a sovereign people, then they should not wait for the UN to act but should immediately declare their national independence and sovereignty, today, now, by the adoption of a founding document to be followed up with a constitutional document. Then they should immediately send out official diplomats to each member nation of the UN asking for diplomatic recognition of their independent sovereignty as the prelude to the request to the UN seeking recognition from the whole body. In this way, the world would be forced to take their claims of independence seriously and they would be going to the UN as independents not as dependents.