Monday, December 27, 2010

Just Reborn From Her

Just Reborn From Her
by Luce Irigaray
translated by The Athlone Press


you who house me but with whom I share,

you who are fecund with so many children, who do not resemble one another,

you who grow without respite, both in secret and in the light,

you who bear seed, flower and fruit,

you who never cease to repair life,

you who at every time of the year work for the becoming of the living,


you who are still lavish with sun when the frost comes,


safeguard me, faithful one.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why Bolivia stood alone in opposing the Cancún climate agreement

Pablo Solon, The Guardian, Dec 21, 2010 — Diplomacy is traditionally a game of alliance and compromise. Yet in the early hours of Saturday 11 December, Bolivia found itself alone against the world: the only nation to oppose the outcome of the United Nations climate change summit in Cancún. We were accused of being obstructionist, obstinate and unrealistic. Yet in truth we did not feel alone, nor are we offended by the attacks. Instead, we feel an enormous obligation to set aside diplomacy and tell the truth.

The “Cancún accord” was presented late Friday afternoon, and we were given two hours to read it. Despite pressure to sign something – anything – immediately, Bolivia requested further deliberations. This text, we said, would be a sad conclusion to the negotiations. After we were denied any opportunity to discuss the text, despite a lack of consensus, the president banged her gavel to approve the document.

Many commentators have called the Cancún accord a “step in the right direction.” We disagree: it is a giant step backward. The text replaces binding mechanisms for reducing greenhouse gas emissions with voluntary pledges that are wholly insufficient. These pledges contradict the stated goal of capping the rise in temperature at 2C, instead guiding us to 4C or more. The text is full of loopholes for polluters, opportunities for expanding carbon markets and similar mechanisms – like the forestry scheme Redd – that reduce the obligation of developed countries to act.

Bolivia may have been the only country to speak out against these failures, but several negotiators told us privately that they support us. Anyone who has seen the science on climate change knows that the Cancún agreement was irresponsible.

In addition to having science on our side, another reason we did not feel alone in opposing an unbalanced text at Cancún is that we received thousands of messages of support from the women, men, and young people of the social movements that have stood by us and have helped inform our position. It is out of respect for them, and humanity as a whole, that we feel a deep responsibility not to sign off on any paper that threatens millions of lives.

Some claim the best thing is to be realistic and recognise that at the very least the agreement saved the UN process from collapse.

Unfortunately, a convenient realism has become all that powerful nations are willing to offer, while they ignore scientists’ exhortations to act radically now. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that in order to have a 50% chance of keeping the rise in temperature below 1.5C, emissions must peak by 2015. The attempt in Cancún to delay critical decisions until next year could have catastrophic consequences.

Bolivia is a small country. This means we are among the nations most vulnerable to climate change, but with the least responsibility for causing the problem. Studies indicate that our capital city of La Paz could become a desert within 30 years. What we do have is the privilege of being able to stand by our ideals, of not letting partisan agendas obscure our principal aim: defending life and Earth. We are not desperate for money. Last year, after we rejected the Copenhagen accord, the US cut our climate funding. We are not beholden to the World Bank, as so many of us in the south once were. We can act freely and do what is right.

Bolivia may have acted unusually by upsetting the established way of dealing with things. But we face an unprecedented crisis, and false victories won’t save the planet. False agreements will not guarantee a future for our children. We all must stand up and demand a climate agreement strong enough to match the crisis we confront.

Pablo Solon is the ambassador of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to the United Nations.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Fear of Death

(originally written 01/20/10)

Fear of Death
Thích Quang Ðu'c
June 11, 1963

Tao Te Ching

If men are not afraid to die,
It is of no avail to threaten them with death.

If men live in constant fear of dying,
And if breaking the law means that a man will be killed,
Who will dare break the law?

There is always an official executioner.
If you try to take his place,
it is like trying to be a master carpenter and cutting wood.
If you try to cut wood like a master carpenter,
you will only hurt your hand.
-Lao Tzu-

To not be afraid to die is a rarity in this world today. Yet, we are long acquainted with this notion in western thought -- since the days of Epicurus (341-270 BCE). "Death is nothing to us," said Epicurus. "I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind", is written on many ancient tombstones -- followers of the Epicurean philosophy. What happened to bring about in us such a fear of death? Oh yes, the notion of eternal heaven and eternal hell. As a more recent philosopher sung: "Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky, imagine all the people, living for today." That was John Lennon, of course. We know the words, but how many know the feeling . . . and live it?

To be afraid to die is a terrible existence. One cannot live if one fears the experience -- and death is part of the experience. It did not hurt before we were born, and it will not hurt after we die. It only hurts while we are alive. Fearing death is actually fearing life -- it's one of those paradoxes that are, above all, True.

When one is afraid to die one will suffer any abomination, including letting evil people lead them. When one is afraid to die one will suffer atrocious laws, including putting innocent people to death. When one is afraid to die one will suffer any ignorance, including letting the world die around them. Governments control by fear. It wasn't supposed to be like that in these United States, but the Grand Experiment has failed. The country called America is simply another culture doomed to rot from the inside, like so many others, because the people fear the government. Why fear the government? Because the government can execute you for breaking one of its laws . . . and you never know what's going to be against the law tomorrow. So, if you fear death, you fear the executioner, and thus you fear the government who controls the executioner. If you do not fear death . . . the government has no hold on you, and the government is afraid of you. Hmm . . . could be why few people outside chefs have been taught of Epicurus. And it could be an Epicurean Underground that made the movie: "Who's Killing All The Great Chefs of Europe" (j/k)

The "official executioner" is Death, The Grim Reaper. So the last part is a warning to those governments which will try to control their people through fear of death -- they will only hurt their hand . . . rot from the inside and die. The death penalty is a symptom of a sick society.

The Hard Way? Ayup!

The Hard Way? Ayup!

(originally written 01/25/10)

Reading the chapter "The Hard Way" in "A Modern Buddhist Bible" was entertaining and enlightening for me. Much of the chapter, indeed, almost every word, reads like an Alcoholics Anonymous Step Meeting! In fact, the description of the 'hard way' path to enlightenment is exactly what old-timers tell newcomers in A.A. meetings about getting off the "pink cloud" and getting on with the rest of life. I am fond of remarking that the life of a drunk is the hard way to enlightenment, but you get there just the same. Just substitute a couple stock A.A. phases for Buddhist terminology. Perhaps if people realized this, then they would look at enlightenment the same way a person in A.A. views recovery: as the final desperate attempt to 'get right' with the world, to find peace and an end of suffering; to find love and serenity; to find the meaning of life. The key words there are "final desperate attempt."

Nobody stays sober without a lot of extremely simple yet extraordinarily difficult work on themselves, exactly as Trungpa warns: "It takes tremendous effort to work one's way through the difficulties of the path and actually get into the situations of life thoroughly and properly."

Look at this quote from an Alcoholics Anonymous Daily Reflections blog: "When my own house is in order, I find the different parts of my life are more manageable. Stripped from the guilt and remorse that clocked my drinking years, I am free to assume my proper role in the universe, but this condition requires maintenance."

And this A.A. slogan: "It's easy to talk the talk, but you have to walk the walk."

And for the rest of Trungpa's chapter I can only post one more thing: an edited version A.A.'s 12 Steps. Tell me if this is not completely compatible with what Trungpa says:

1. We admitted we were powerless.

2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the pursuit of the Tao as we understood it.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted within the Tao, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to remove all these defects of character under the guidance of the Tao.

7. Humbly sought through the Tao to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through meditation to improve our conscious contact with the Tao as we understood it, praying only for knowledge of the next step for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

In my own foray into the universe of A.A. I found myself attracted to Buddhism in my early recovery. I also found out that such a thing was not uncommon in A.A., simply because of the vast similarities. Also not uncommon, that after a while the alcoholic in recovery leaves Buddhism behind for the same reason Trungpa explains about the teachings of Christ: it "is an imaginary situation."

And just so there's no questions on the spirit of the 12 Steps being violated, here are the official 12 Steps of A.A.. If anyone would like to explore the connections between A.A., the 12 Steps and this chapter, a good place to start is the A.A. Grapevine and 12

An Experiment in Turning A Simple Thing Into Many Difficult Things

(originally written 01/27/10)

An Experiment in Turning A Simple Thing Into Many Difficult Things

(photo "The Four Noble Truths" from: The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order )

The Four Noble Truths. It's a shame there is not, and has not been, a universal human language, for even in the translation of these four simple sentences there are vast chasms of murkiness about which words to use. But then, the situation of not having a universal language highlights just how pervasive a truth the first Noble Truth is.

I am not going to use this translation from


I am going to use this translation from BuddhaWeb:

Four Noble Truths
1. Suffering exists
2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path

Simple and to the point. It correctly highlights the one part of life every living thing would like to do without: suffering. The first truth is noble because it is honest. The second truth is noble because it is insightful. The third truth is noble because it is a promise. The fourth truth is noble because it is the answer.

What is the Eightfold Path? According to BuddhaWeb, which is basically the same translation I am familiar with, the path to freedom from suffering is: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right contemplation.

Ah, but what is right? This second part, though simple, is not easy. Not easy at all. Not even easy to define. What is right? Well, things get murky at this point:

Three Characteristics of Existence

1. Transiency (anicca)
2. Sorrow (dukkha)
3. Selflessness (anatta)

Five Hindrances

1. Sensuous lust
2. Aversion and ill will
3. Sloth and torpor
4. Restlessness and worry
5. Skeptical doubt

Seven Factors of Enlightenment

1. Mindfulness
2. Investigation
3. Energy
4. Rapture
5. Tranquility
6. Concentration
7. Equanimity

. . . and then there's the Four Reliances . . . and it keeps on going like the energizer bunny to the Four Immeasurable Prayers, the Six Perfections, the Eight Auspicious Symbols, . . . and more. Hmm . . . talk about your ten thousand things . . .

Common Sense & the Excitement of Life

(originally written 01/31/10)

Common Sense and the Excitement of Life

(symbol representing the Eightfold Path)

I am acquainted with the Eightfold Path from a perspective of using it for a time to re-make my life after alcoholism nearly ended it. From that viewpoint, the Eightfold Path is simply common sense. I can find no fault in the Path except one: where's the excitement of life?

What sense is it to become corporeal, and suffer in this material existence if not to experience the thrills, the joys, the agonies of life? Humans are all about exploring limits, not walking the middle way. The middle way is for herd animals. The extremes are for humans, for explorers, for wanderers.

Imagine a see-saw. The middle point where the board rocks upon the fulcrum is a boring ride, indeed. But out on the ends of the board -- well, that's another matter entirely! Out on the end, staring over the precipice, a moment away from free-fall -- that's where humans belong. And the Eightfold Path can go there also. It helps make sure the excitement doesn't turn into hysteria, disaster and death. Right Intention, y'know.

If one ponders a moment on the subject, one can see that the Eightfold Path weaves in through every aspect of human life -- even out on the edge. It has to, else it would not be a true wisdom.

Life is to be lived. Life is to be enjoyed. Life is transient. If one looks closely one can see it in the Eightfold Path. There is a time and place for excitement, as well as for serenity.

Quantum Magick

(originally written 02/08/10)

Quantum Magick

I love quantum physics because it proves magick is real. Acually, I always knew magick was real. I used to have discussions at Quinebaug Valley Community College with the engineers there about them being modern-day wizards -- that the olden-day wizards were engineers and others who knew physics . . . and, they knew quantum physics before it had a name.

And that's the rub: 'before it had a name.' Science scoffs at a lot of things. When science scoffs it ignores the thing it is scoffing. By ignoring it, science is unable to tell us anything about it. But when, for some reason like . . . the magick just doesn't go away . . . science finally looks at it . . . and then "discovers" something new . . . and then Names it. Once science Names something it is no longer magick. At that point it becomes only humdrum science. Boring.

See how that works?

In my lifetime herbal medicines, aromatherapy, acupuncture, chiropractry, and even garlic, for heaven's sake, was scoffed at by science as having no intrinsic benefits, and probably deadly harmful (OK, maybe not garlic). Now we accept all those things as beneficial medicinal things because science finally came along and Named what these things do.

Well . . . science has now named a lot of magick as quantum physics. They admit our Newtonian model of physics just isn't right, that it works well enough . . . but maybe those weird anomalies that happen from time to time could be predicted if we knew more quantum physics. And maybe, just maybe, if we really start to know this stuff, then maybe we can Name all the things metaphysics has been trying to tell us from time immemorial. Maybe there really is something to all that hocus pocus. Maybe that woo-woo-magick crap is what is real, and our man-made society and rules are nothing but hot air, our wasted words.

For my money, science is always a day late and a dollar short. In this instance, metaphysics, science has been late from Day 1 and is now flat broke.

We can learn a lot from people who look where science does not. (i.e. the lunatic fringe)

Oh, check this out: Physicists testing quantum mechanics claim "nature violates local realism" . . . I guess it doesn't enter into their heads that nature is real, and their conception of reality violates nature. Here is a better explanation of the actual "violation."

Dogs & Reincarnation, Mongolian Style

Dogs & Reincarnation, Mongolian Style

(originally written 02/27/10)

I was doing some research on my Mongol philosophy presentation, and I ran into this bit about dogs. Since we mentioned dogs and reincarnation briefly a couple classes ago, I thought this might be of interest for general background info on culture and tradition.

"Dogs are mentioned very often in famous historical documents and literary epics as "Dogs are the most loyal friends. They will never change poor master for a rich herder, grown by poor nomad it will never follow even a khaan." There was even a poem composed by Sandag, a famous poet of 19th century "Praise to Dog"

Ch. Jugder, well known expert on Medieval Mongolian philosophy, notes that "Mongols deeply respected and revered their dogs and the dogs never betrayed their masters."

Such respect for dogs even found reflection in the legislation. The Codes of Law from 1640 and 1709 (enforced and observed until 1921) both contain provisions prohibiting to kill or beat dogs.

Dogs, similar to horses, were buried on the hills so that people do not walk on their remains. Dog's tail was cut off and placed under the head. A piece of fat was put into their mouth and words of wishes to be born as a human being in the next life were said before burial."

"Mongolian Dog" (breed not 'registered') & child

(quotes and picture from Mongolia Today )

"Death is nothing to us."

(originally written 03/01/10)

"Death is nothing to us."

Death. I've gone 'round and 'round with death, arguing (post-mortem) with the great existentialists as well as many other dead philosophers, prophets and saints of all stripes. The only definition of Death I am satisfied with is: Life. Death is defined by Life. Death by itself is nothing.

I think Thich Nhat Hanh is saying the same thing, just in different words. When he talks about "our true nature is the nature of no birth and no death," I think he is just being a tad confusing. There is a lot easier way to say that, a non-ambiguous way, a way that has already been said: death is nothing to us, life is everything to us. The nature of no-birth and no-death is life. Life is the experience between the points of birth and death. The times before birth and after death do not hold any experiences for this manifestation of life we call our Self.

Death is nothing to us.

That sentence is so stark, so unequivocal, so definite that we revolt against accepting it. But if one quiets the mind, gets rid of all those mindful and mindless notions just as Thich Nhat Hanh says, and takes stock of what experiences we know death bestows upon a person . . . well then, there is absolutely nothing.

It is silly to fear nothing. -- and the original meaning of silly meant "blessed", so that sentence is like a paradox in itself, meaning opposite things at the same time: it is silly to fear nothing (be afraid) but it is a blessed state to fear nothing (fear no thing). But that's just a silly, nonsensical, tangent anyway. The important point is: losing the fear of death frees us from fearing life.

"Accustom yourself to believe that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply awareness, and death is the privation of all awareness; therefore a right understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life an unlimited time, but by taking away the yearning after immortality. For life has no terror; for those who thoroughly apprehend that there are no terrors for them in ceasing to live." -- Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus

Similarly, we should regard the time before we were born as nothing to us, as well. Life, the experience of life is all there is to us. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, "You are what you are looking for."

And in that he said it beautifully. That is all there is, there does not need to be more: "You are what you are looking for."

Acatalepsia and Ataraxia

Acatalepsia and Ataraxia

(thoughts from Chapter 6: The Sheep Who Became A Goat, Rational Mysticism)
(originally written 3/30/10)

This chapter uses "randomness" as a proof. It also uses other proofs, just as unprovable as "randomness" but I'll just concentrate on "randomness". It is good to be skeptical, but that skepticism must be applied to all things, and not only to one in favor of another. One must also be skeptical of science.

After all, as I have mentioned before, pi is an abomination of the mind that does not exist. But there are many more things in science that do not exist. In fact, the entire science of geometry does not exist. We have found that there are no such things in nature as a line or a plane. Everything is fractal, and therefore neither a line nor a plane -- but something inbetween. Without lines and planes there are no geometric shapes, only fractal shapes. No Geometry . . . how random is that!?

Don't believe me, read for yourself: Fractal Dimension

Enough of that. Let's talk about randomness.

"When one is dealt a bridge hand of thirteen cards, the probability of being dealt that particular hand is less than one in 600 billion. Still, it would be absurd for someone to be dealt a hand, examine it carefully, calculate that the probability of getting it is less than one in 600 billion, and then conclude that he must not have been dealt that very hand because it is so very improbable." -- John Allen Paulos, Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences

Or, as I say:

"1% is 100% when it happens."

Randomness. What is it? Is it compartmentable? Can it be segregated? Is it distinct, one random bit from another random bit? How infinitesimal is randomness? How huge is randomness? How ordinary is randomness? How extra-ordinary is randomness? Is there no connection anywhere, at any level, between one random bit and another random bit? Is every new second of time a bit of randomness never before seen in exactly that manifestation? How does one calculate randomness? If a thing has a 50% chance of happening -- how is that calculated? Forget coins, what about real life?

A baseball batter with a career of 20 years comes to the plate. Over those 20 years he has gotten a hit 30% of the time (he has a career batting average of .300). Does he have a 30% chance to get a hit? Does he have a 50% chance to get a hit? Does he have some other chance to get a hit? Or is it random -- without any reference at all to anything that has come before or will come after? No connections? None? A totally random chance to get a hit every at bat? Even the tiniest, teeniest bit of a connection utterly dissipates randomness.

Any player of baseball will tell you that each at bat in the player's career is connected in the mind of the batter to the moment at hand, and has an influence over the outcome of the present moment. Further still, each and every previous moment of the pitcher's career is connected in the pitcher's mind to the present moment. And the runner at first base, as well as the first baseman and all the fielders, and the umpires, and the coaches, and the trainers and general managers . . . and on and on. There is a complex web of intricate and ethereal connections that is so interwoven the pattern is hard to see -- and we call that randomness. The present moment is not, nor is it ever, distinct and wholly separate from every other moment. There is no such thing as a random moment, nor is there anything that exists that is random.

Go ahead, name me a random creature. A creature that exists randomly, a creature without any predecessors. Too difficult? OK, how about a random word. Tell me a random word, any word, a word not connected to any other words through thought or utterance or ink, a word that is a thought in and of itself and has random definitions each time it randomly appears in random conversations with random people on a random world in a random universe.

Randominity demands randomness at every level or it is not random. Can there be such a thing as a random anything? Or is randomness just another pipe dream like circles, triangles and squares?

Absurd? Yes. OK, how about flipping a coin? Can a coin flip be random? Or is it influenced by the muscles of the hand that flips it and the molecules of air that surround it? Make a machine to flip the coin, and the machine will wear out a little with every flip thus creating a building influence from the first flip to the last flip -- none being random.

Computers? Random number generating programs? Don't wear out, simply electrons . . . Funny thing, that. Computers cannot generate random numbers. There is always a pattern. A repeatable pattern. Programs that generate random numbers all fudge it, trying for enough of a complicated pattern that it appears random -- but it never is. Computers, those things that think in either-or, on or off, zero or one . . . those things that are utterly without deception, they say randomness is simply impossible.

If a moment cannot be random, what then can we say about randomness? How can randomness exist when there is no environment for it to survive within?

I found the skepticism of this chapter misplaced, vindictive, childish, and not at all random. Skeptics assert nothing, announcing only opinion. The protagonists in this chapter are not skeptics, they are zealots of cause.