Learning to die and teaching philosophy at California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA

I have not read Dawkins’ latest book, The God Delusion, but I’m sure I agree with just about all of what he argued for in it. The idea that a personal God is responsible for the creation and maintenance of this universe, that He answers prayers and passes judgment upon the deeds of men, is childish indeed, a leftover of pre-modern humanity’s lack of intellectual freedom and, hence, its dependence on the dubious and dogmatic claims of a learned ecclesiastical authority to quell fear of the unknown (much like a mother may lie to her child to keep it from worrying about what it cannot yet understand). Such beliefs have contributed to some of the greatest human tragedies in all of history and in fact continue to do so up until this very moment. Our world is in dire need of the rationality Dawkins employs in his deconstruction of its outdated religions, and indeed we have reached a point in time when the widespread availability and connectivity of information has given nearly every person on Earth the ability (and therefore the moral responsibility) to become more fully aware, both of the world around them, and to a lesser extent, to the world within them (1).

I do, however, have a few qualms with Dawkins’ credo, among which his insistence on referring to himself as an impassioned atheist. It makes him sound as though he has a deep-seated emotional bias against anything overtly spiritual. I suppose someone needs to do what Dawkins is doing, playing the kryptonite to orthodox religion’s Superman; but atheism is no more than a reaction to theism. Going out of his way to assert disbelief in God, usually condescendingly, Dawkins seems to reveal and underlying obsession with the supernatural that is just as fervent as the worship of those he rants against. All psychological analysis aside, though, my only real reservation about Dawkins crusade to rid the world of the silly literalisms of outdated religion is that he seems to offer little to replace them. That they need replacing is obvious, but that “science” alone might be able to fill the gap, as Dawkins suggests, seems a bit like suggesting that menus could replace meals. Obviously they cannot, or we would all soon starve.

The human being is and always has been both animal and angel, both worldly and spiritual. We are drawn to both the immanent and the transcendent, sometimes parading around like gods, other times moping guiltily for our sins. It seems, then, that throwing out our mystical side in favor of our rational will leave us with nothing but descriptions of the world unaccompanied by their experiential correlates. There is a certain inner sense of the genuinely spiritual hiding beneath the drab and pockmarked shell of religion. Now that it has come time for us to crack this shell, we ought to be careful not to toss the life of the yolk away with it. I fear that an overly literal interpretation of the merits of science could turn out to be just as destructive as the literal religion that preceded it.

I quote Dawkins at length from the opening to a recent documentary entitled The Big Questions:

The human race is one of the wonders of the universe, and of all our remarkable properties, one stands out. It is that we are restlessly drawn to ask questions like ‘why are we here,’ and ‘what is the purpose of life?’

So far, I have no problems. He goes on:

The great civilizations and cultures of the past came up with various answers, all unsatisfying because they were made up, rather than being properly investigated. Can science come up with something better? I think so.

I sense that Dawkins is here overstepping his bounds as a scientist. The most sacred of scientific creeds has it that one ought not apply the tools of the trade to areas where they do not apply, such as the spheres of value and meaning. Despite Dawkins protest that civilizations and cultures past were somehow mistaken in their “made up” beliefs about the purpose of life, science can in no way escape a similar type of subjective construction when it attempts to build its own models of the world. He goes on to say,

For most of the 500,000 years of human existence, we have been unable to answer the question of why we are here. It was only 150 years ago that science first tried to find an answer.

For Dawkins, that answer was Darwin’s theory of evolution. I would like to suggest, though, that Darwin’s theory is just one, albeit the most recent and admittedly the most empirically verifiable (2), in a long line of cultural mythopoeia. Every age has its own conception of the ultimate. For the people of Classical Greece, the gods of Homer’s epics were just as real as the particles and energies of the modern scientist. Neither Grecian nor scientist has ever actually seen either, but both will undoubtedly testify to having a direct conceptual experience of each.

As Voltaire once put it, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.” Human beings are inexplicably drawn to asking big questions. It seems, though, that this drive is overshadowed by our even greater desire to provide big answers, often times without merit.

The Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, painted some 500 years ago by Michelangelo, reveals the prevailing mythos of the late medieval period of human history. At the center of the immense fresco is the famous image of The Creation of Adam, God reaching down to Man to bestow upon him the gift of knowledge. Such supernatural explanations for the complexity of the human mind are unacceptable by the more critical, scientific standards of today. We demand to know how God bestowed this gift, not just the obvious fact that he did. Hidden in this same image, though, is evidence that Michelangelo’s understanding of the mythological construction of belief was ahead of his time. An entourage of angels accompanies God, draping him in the unmistakable outline of humanity’s most powerful asset: its brain.

The artist is here illustrating both God’s creation of Man, and Man’s creation of God. In its literalist forms, Christianity asserts a God who exists high above His created masterpiece, divinely designing it from without, turning dust (matter) into intelligence (form). In a similar way, the scientist uses the technological skill offered by the brain to construct meaning from the ambiguities of the manifest world, thereby dragging God down from heaven, chopping Him into individual parts, and renaming each as the ego. Every individual thus becomes the designer of his or her own world. In this sense, “God” refers only to that which provides the necessary ground of being upon which any explanatory edifice must build its foundation. For the pre-modern Christian, this ground was the Biblical God the Father, the Holiest of Holies. For the modern scientist, the ground becomes the rational mind, the ego: God shrunken and internalized. God becomes, for the scientist, the only thing Descartes could not doubt. His famous dictum, “I think, therefore I am,” provided modern science with its own creation myth.

Science’s big answers, then, are no more final than any of humanity’s previous answers. Throughout our history, the elite classes of the time have always championed their own versions of how things came to be the way they are. Usually, these explanations come subliminally packaged as to promote and maintain the current social order. Church officials once claimed to offer the only route to heaven, and an intellectually and economically meager populace was forced to obey their every command. Scripture was written only in Latin, making it impossible for the uneducated masses to interpret their tradition for themselves. Most find themselves in a similar situation today, as scientists rule over the collective psyche of society from behind their university desks and obscure scientific journals, claiming to have answered the big questions with theories like evolution by natural selection. Most normal people, not having the scientific background to fully comprehend such ideas, are forced either to take the side of academic authority, thereby accepting the over-simplified, pop-science sound bites they hear used in the media, or to reject science in favor of some prior mythological authority, such as the Bible or their local church pastor. This creates a situation where the average person assumes they must pick one or the other: science or God, evolution or creationism, reason or faith.

In reality, such dichotomies exist only in the minds of the fundamentalist. When one has understood the intricacies of the scientific worldview, it becomes clear that science neither proves nor disproves the spiritual. While it may have much to say against literal belief in the miracles of the Bible, it has little to say about ultimate matters in general. It is almost universally true, though, that the scientific heroes of our past, while usually rejecting notions of a personal God, nonetheless found through their investigations into the natural world a numinousity so profound that it may as well be called spiritual. This was true for Newton, for Einstein, for Eddington… the list goes on.

Scientific theories do indeed go a long way toward explaining the how of the universe. What they fail miserably at is explaining the why. This is precisely the reason that so many scientific geniuses end up believing in some sense of the mystical. Their penetrating investigations reveal to them a reality so far beyond mere descriptions that the pure experience of its mystery becomes a form of worship.

We see, then, that the hows of science cannot replace the whys of spirituality. Dawkins’ suggestion that we reinterpret ourselves in light of natural selection as nothing more than “survival machines” simply will not do. The human psyche is so structured that it cannot function without equal doses of both knowledge and purpose. To be fair, Dawkins suggests that our ability to think and speak has given us what he believes amounts to “purpose.” The fact that our brains developed enough to allow us to create our own goals is what separates us from the blind forces of evolution. Unlike animals, we humans can decide for ourselves what kind of world we want to live in. Dawkins cites our mastery of technology as a prime example of this skill, as we can now “alleviate hunger with new strains of crops, predict the weather with high speed computers, and cure diseases with pharmaceuticals.”

While these innovations are doubtlessly great achievements, I must point out that around a billion people remain starving, hurricanes and tornados still kill thousands every year, and pharmaceutical companies participate in one of the most profitable and corrupt businesses in economic history, researching not cures, but treatments, as the former simply wouldn’t make shareholders rich enough to keep the racket going. We can see, then, that science can certainly provide the means, but when it comes to the motivations, it is silenced. Human values and meaning, therefore, must come through some other means, means I’m prepared to call spiritual. By spiritual, I do not mean we ought to revert to superstitious belief in a vengeful God who will smite those who disobey. Rather, I refer to the individually mediated experience of that which transcends the everyday categories of the mind, that which cannot be explained but most assuredly can be experienced. Such experiences universally produce feelings of compassion and connection to nature and to one’s fellow man. Only with such an internal understanding of one’s place in the world can the powerful external tools of science be used for good.

Science and religion must be integrated. Asserting the practical truths of science above and beyond the transcendent truths of spirituality leaves one in a valueless world where, indeed, only the fittest will survive. If we wish to fully embrace our dual human countenance, being as we are both animal and angel, we must respect the worth of each sphere, combining the best of both to create a new and more integral human future.

(1)- There seems to be an excess of credible information about the exterior world available to human beings alive in our age. I’d refer to this as knowledge, the practical know-how that allows one to get things done in the world. However, when it comes to what I’d call interior spiritual wisdom, credible information seems less widely available, or at least much less sought after because of the Western world’s overtly extroverted worldview. Knowledge, again, provides us with the how. Spiritual wisdom provides us with the why.

(2)- Modern day science has reduced the meaning of empiricism to what can be experienced through the five senses, thereby negating even the possibility that one might objectively investigate matters of the mind and spirit through various types of intersubjective study. The reason Darwin’s theory is the most empirically justified is because no special injunction is required for one to see with their eyes that humans bare a striking resemblance to primates, or that during the early weeks of pregnancy, the fetuses of many animals appear almost identical. Even the layman can see such things. However, for one to see, for example, the empirically verified spiritual truth that all supposedly self-existing entities gain their apparent separateness only through their contextual relationship to all other entities (dependent origination) and that they therefore exist primordially as Sunyata, or emptiness, they would need to follow the carefully prescribed methods of the masters of their preferred tradition.

What is the ego? The Buddhist wants to say the ego is a fiction, as this seems to be the only way to avoid the reductio ad absurdum inherent to mind/body dualism. If the ego is real, it must exist in a self-contained dimension not subject to the laws of time and space. It must be the cause of the physical effects observed in the brain and body, itself remaining untainted by the carnality of the meat within the skin. It is absent from the bridge of the ship it is supposed to be captaining. How can this be? It must be because we as the describer of the mind are under the false assumption that “I think, therefore I am.” Supposing the cognitive scientist were somehow able to accurately map the mental processes of the mind by putting thought into code, he would still assume a priori that these codes were used by an ego. Why else suppose the function of the mind was representational if not to bridge this assumed gap between physical and mental? Why do we jump so quickly to divide the mental from the physical? Is it because we want to carve out a slice from the loaf of the world and call it “mine,” a tiny vestige of free will surrounded on all sides by an unbearably determined universe? Time bakes the world; it is the oven or matrix surrounding the loaf, like the space surrounding Earth. Creative energy is released from within this spatiotemporal matrix as heat and gravity, inspiring the raw dough to take form. The yeast in the dough enacts its chemical destiny, much like the DNA of an organism expresses its phenotype, as the result of an interaction between internal potentiality and external necessity. The oven informs the dough. But it is not that the organism alone grows or that the environment alone nurtures. It is that the organism-environment field together cooperates in the enactment of a body-world in space and time. Taken separately, the world and the mind can only have a second-hand relationship with one another. Mind must view the world through a lens, and the lens can never be clear enough to see the world itself. Why do we add this extra dimension of complication to reality? Did we really find it in the world itself? The answer must be no, because as we’ve already said, separating the mind from world leaves the observer with nothing but a represented version of that world. If the mental is separate from the physical, the physical must be translated into the mental before it could be witnessed by the ego. But the requirement of translation pulls the rug from beneath any epistemology that sets out to know the world objectively. All knowledge becomes interpretation, as the only source of information we have about the world has been tainted by the mind way before we even become conscious of it. All one can ever know, from behind the lens of the mind, is the mind itself.

Let us return to the original question. What is the ego? The ego is the sense of tension struggling to be hewn from the symbiotic dance between the conscious and the unconscious. It is the mind within the body within the world [fig. Yang]. The body-world, in the case of this masculine conception of the ego, represents that which is unconscious, the dark and mysterious feminine principal. This is the archetypal relationship between man and nature. It is what leads the engineer to spend billions to design, build, and launch huge rocket ships that take astronauts to the moon. If the mind is an anomaly lost amid a cosmic sea of empty chaos, loneliness becomes the dominant emotional temper of a humanity whose sole preoccupation is the endless expansion of knowledge and accumulation of wealth. The goal is to expand the known, increase the size of the world, encroach on as much of the empty unknowns of space as possible. It is the spirit born during the Enlightenment continued right up until today. We are the conquers of the New World. We blast off into space at tremendous expense, burning millions of gallons of fuel in a way far too inefficient for nature herself to ever have devised, in search of more resources to exploit and more knowledge to fill in the gaps between the pages of our Encyclopedia Galactica. NASA is coming to realize, though, that the biggest issue facing interplanetary space travel is not how to protect the astronauts from the vacuum of space during their long, alienating trips between orbits, but how to protect them from their own psyches. Space becomes the overwhelming depth of mystery; the dark and unknowable belly of the beast, and man becomes the knight in shining armor nobly going where no man has gone before to slay and defeat his own shadow. As the astronauts among us continue rocketing off into space, they will continue to face the profoundly centering experience of seeing the Earth, the whole world, from the outside. Being so far away from home that the horizon becomes circular alters one’s perspective of what it means to be back home again, apparently walking upside down on a ball of air, water, and rock hurling through an empty void. As the mind travels further out into empty world-space, it begins to expand to fill in for the lack of matter. When you’re so far out that the Sun becomes just another star, it looks as though the world is all in your mind [fig. Yin]. The mind transforms into the higher ground of being and the world becomes but a lower expression of it. This reverses the prior situation where the mind was a periphery extension of the more primary world. The infinite extension of space overwhelms the world with relativity, as it becomes clear that matter is not the most common feature of reality. The matrix of space is primary. There are many worlds, but only one space. The world as the fundamental ground becomes but a distant childhood memory. And what lay outside, above, and beyond the mind? Like space encompasses the world, spirit encompasses the mind. This view of the ego is feminine, turning the mind into the matrix embracing the world—not confronting it but creatively participating in the creation of it. The mind, in turn, is embraced by the cosmic compassion of spirit. From this eternal origin called spirit, all of creation, from civilization itself down to the last grain of sand on an uninhabited beach, becomes a divine manifestation made real again in each moment. We must come to see that each of these figures is equally true, two sides of the same non-dual reality. Fig. 1 is the reality of Yin. The divine moment of genesis occuring continuously through each moment, as though a bolt of lighting shooting down from the vast potentiality of spirit, into the creative intricacies of mind, through the organic metabolisms of body, finally arriving as the seeming stuff of the world, the matter, the ground, the surface. All of it is lila, the divine play of the cosmos, created right then, in the eternal now moment. Fig. 2 is the reality of Yang. The creation moment was long ago, but after billions of years of evolution from matter, to body, to mind, mankind was born to claim it all for himself. Yin is the ever-present origin; spirit as the ground of being. Yang is the once-present origin, slowing evolving back to union; spirit as the goal of being. We can separate these two parallel processes into the two personalities they seem to promote. Fig. 1 is the viewpoint of the mystic. Fig. 2, the view of the engineer. We can see, though, that, when driven to extremes, the two arrive on each other’s doorsteps. The engineer has a mystical experience far out in space watching the earthrise above the lunar horizon; the mystic, far below on the surface of the Earth, experiences the infinite spilling a bucket of water that had been reflecting the moon. “In this way and that I tried to keep the pail together. I hoped the weak bamboo would never break. Then suddenly the bottom fell out. No more water; no more moon in the water. Emptiness in my hand.”

God is evolving through man. Once the irritable Yahweh of the Old Testament, next transformed into the compassionate Christ of the New, finally reborn as the individual story of each ego, now elevated to the heights of the soul, God in ego-drag. Each step brings God deeper into the game of evolution. A more complete surrender leads to a more awakened consciousness. Spirit pours Itself out into Matter in an act of forgetting and gives birth to Body, Mind, and Soul, which eventually return to their source in Spirit when they have finished running their course through time. They remember Spirit, bringing the many back into the One in which they originated. God cannot help but forget Itself; Once It has, It then cannot help but remember.

The ego that does the remembering, that is the representing, runs its simulations in the prefrontal cortex. It gets its visual aspect by projecting onto the same areas of the visual cortex that receive input from the retina about the light from the outside world. With eyes open, the outside world is stabilized by the visual cortex and observed by the ego (presentation). With eyes closed, the outside world is un-coupled and experience becomes the invention of the ego (representation). The ego and the prefrontal cortex are principally involved in memory. They remember, they inform, they give meaning to the raw sensory data from the outside world by putting it into context. They hold in their dynamic connections to one another the matrix of thought itself; each individual brain, though, is also part of a larger matrix of cultural meaning. We are raised to have the egos that we do. This upbringing depends on certain cultural memes, memes that are passed on not because of biological natural selection, but because of some higher, more value-laden dimension of reality. Memes decide for themselves what the future is going to be, they don’t have to wait to react to nature’s changes retroactively. Memes are genes with minds of their own. It seems that the ego itself is a meme. In fact, it seems to be THE meme. The ego is the mind that has control of a body and therefore of its action in the world. It is the meme that gave birth to human history, its culture and writing and technology.

Why do we insist on measuring alien technology in terms of time? We say, “It is likely that advanced forms of alien life are thousands, if not millions of years ahead of us technologically.” First off, what is it we typically mean when we refer to “technology”? Do we mean something material and mechanical? Something designed and built by man out of matter in order to accomplish a specific goal? Something to harness natural power, to control and manipulate it? Or would we also say that non-material devices like language were technological? If we are to include language in our survey, does it remain by definition within the category of our other machines, which we have said are built to control and shape the world to our will? That is, does language, even though it is immaterial, still have a causal relationship with the physical world? This is not to say that just because I may think, “The couch over there will now float off the ground and hover across the room,” that it will actually do so. The causal connection between words and worlds could be far subtler than the conscious telekinetic manipulation of objects at a distance. The effect of our culturally conditioned use of language on the world occurs on a metaphysical level, carving up nature way before our conscious, socially sculpted, willful egos get a hold of it. The world as presented to our egos is characterized as “real,” “physical,” and “objective.” The ego, though, is a linguistic construction. It is an assigned role unconsciously programmed into the developing child’s mind by a boundary enforcing, competition oriented, and creativity squelching educational model. Thus programmed, we objectify the world by packaging it into categories of mind, which of course in our interconnected, electronically mediated social commons are designed and sold to the ego by a few corporatized media outlets run by a global elite. The individual psyche is skillfully manipulated into believing that owning prefabricated homes in suburban mazes and driving around in mass-produced, over-sized, over-powered vehicles on clogged roadways to shop in strip malls filled with shoddy, brand name products is actually desirable, or at least worth the 40 hours plus overtime a week put in at the office. Motivated only by money, the ego seems forever indebted to the future. What then, is the reason for the ego’s obsession with time? Always, it seems, the ego looks to the future for what it does not have now. It projects this same time-bound consciousness into the minds of hypothetical aliens. They to, the ego assumes, would be obsessed with developing ever-increasing technological skill. They, like us, would have an almost psychotic desire to control the natural world, to mold, shape, and explore the great cosmic womb that birthed them. Might they be so “advanced,” though, that the mechanistic outlook itself was improved upon? Or, is it possible that such a worldview was never even developed at all? If we look at the development of our own species, the dominator model of the world as a machine that merely needs to be mapped in order to be controlled was a recent adaptation, one now proving to be detrimental to our continued survival. If an alien species had developed a relationship to nature similar to ours, it surely would have gone extinct long ago, the victim of ecological collapse or planetary war. Contrary to our assumptions, it is far more likely that alien beings live in such a way that powerful technology is unnecessary. Unlike our drive to control and wield power over the world, aliens may be motivated by celebration and communion, organizing their societies in cooperative ways so that partnership, rather than competition, was the status quo. Instead of raising their kids to accept the “harsh realities of life,” resigning them to the obligatory duties of civilization as though they were assigned by God and simply must be obeyed without fail, such alien cultures would raise children who need not feel guilty for thinking otherwise and who were encouraged to create new game rules and more efficient ways of having fun. Even with our current technological skill, we have the ability to live virtually work-free lives with all of our basic needs provided for. We choose, though, to work and to live in societies so divided by class that the wealthiest 225 people are worth more than the poorest 2.5 billion people earn annually combined (the UN calculates that an annual 4 percent levy on the world’s 225 most well-to-do would suffice to provide the following essentials for all those in developing countries: adequate food, safe water and sanitation, basic education, basic health care and reproductive health care). If that’s isn’t bad enough, 20% of the Earth’s population consumes 90% of its resources. At this rate, the Earth will be totally eaten up and destroyed before the majority of its human inhabitants even get a taste of what civilization is supposed to be. It is no wonder that under such conditions, we spend billions annually to develop the means to explore and colonize space in search of a new home. For the utopian alien civilization, though, there may be little reason to travel into outer space at all, as they could get all the joy they could dream of out of the same planet they grew out of.

Clothing is scattered across the carpet
And dinner plates pile up
On all the tops of tables.
Books go unread
And phone calls go unanswered,
While the patients of my mind–troubled thoughts–
Remain alone and without cure.

The dial of my day
Has wound tight
Around the sun,
Pulling quickly its trip
Between clouds across the sky.

The sand falls gently,
The hourglass grows full.
My lungs swallow precious air,
Gulping down life,
Just to spit it back out.
My heart beats rhythms,
Drumming in red,
Through limbs and eyeballs and stomachs just fed
‘Til the river runs dry
And the last notes resound.

And I wonder through all this despair,
What am I missing about the stars and the planets
And all that space out there?

Are they really so far,
All the lights in the sky?
Don’t they wiggle and fall
And send signals to my mind?
Aren’t they mirages of time,
Tunnels of light twisted
Through the galaxy and
Bent around black holes
At the speed of photons
(The infinite, where fast and slow unite)?
Don’t they have planets to circle them,
Like Saturn and Venus and Mars,
Like Earth with life and words and wars?

The wind is not dead,
But alive? We can’t say.
It blows through eternity,
Giving breath to the trees in spring
And death to their leaves in winter.
It comes from the east, moves to the west.
But east or west, it never rests,
It’s always born and never sets.
It has no destination, no reservation or respect.
It carves mountains and carries seeds.
It gathers storms and blows ships across seas.
It spells release and spreads lightness and peace.

And the winds of the cosmos?
What of their gyres are we to make?
From whence did they commence,
And just how did they become aware?
Mere vortices of light and dust
Sprouts life, a spark from nowhere?

One cannot imagine how it could be done.
One cannot see it hear it taste it smell it.
It arrives before our eye like the morning sun upon waking.
A dream image without cause or explanation.

Our past is but a story,
A fancy tale without beginning.
Its ending, no longer in our future,
Has been written and prepared.
We walk across its pages daily,
Smudging letters
Causing people to go crazy.
Erase and rewrite, go ahead.
But beware of what you want;
You may end up knowing less
Than the fate that knows you best.

Peel away the clouds and pick stars for midnight snacks.
Lay down your telescope,
Point your eyeballs inward.
Focus your attention on your attention
And mediate your own mind.
Find the circuit through the center
And puncture it straight through.
You’ll hurt and feel a pain you’ve never felt,
But the bleeding is temporary,
And soon your pulse will return.
The king is dead, but his kingdom lives on.
Point your sword now toward the sky again
And behold!
Night and day become one
In the marriage of moon and sun.

I have a message For the world.
Not to scare you,
But I think it
Should be heard. People ought to
Let themselves
Get hurt and get lost.
Suffering is the shortest route to
Bliss is the sound of serpent’s tongue
Who was guilty of a sin
And whose nemesis
Was his reflection’s grin In the mirror of the mind
Who is larger than us all
But smaller than us
Too is the number that makes
One not a blunder.
Like the mindfulness
Of water from a
Spring Is the season of
Rebirth into time.
So release comes with
Winter when we’re all
Frozen and sublime.

Originally posted Nov. 25th, 2006

Where does fire come from when it’s started? Is it the same place it goes when you put it out? Or, is it that the fire was never there to begin with? Or even that the fire has and always will be burning eternally? The fire burns forever and yet it doesn’t exist. How bizarre. Take them to the land that’s pure, where words and names are experienced rather than exchanged. When a good artist paints a picture or write a sentence, they do so without worrying about convincing others of anything. A good artist isn’t selling anything and cares not the least for economics. The values agreed upon by the masses, by media, by political propaganda and the number game played in the stock exchange do not influence the artist’s pursuit and expression of his own inner truth. With money, we exchange objects of value. With words, we exchange ideas of value. With art, we create value out of nothing. Why do we so admire and standn in awe of a smiling woman painted 500 years ago? Art should always stand for itself. It shouldn’t be a symbol that merely points to something else more important. The Mona Lisa is now a symbol that freely circulates through our media-saturated culture. it is no longer “merely” itself. As soon as art is understood it becomes artifact. it becomes initiated into the mind as another unit of culture, as a meme. It becomes eternal (at least in our minds) when we name it and make a symbol of it. Art can only be experienced now, in the present, as something spontaneous and unexpected. Art is ineffable because the self who creates it is ineffable. Art displays the inside on the otuside, but the image is fragile, not only to decay but to time itself. As time passes, the work’s image is highjacked by the social mind and its meaning is commoditized. By who? By us. By our desire to control ourselves and one another. We carve up mental territory and try to sell it to one another in order to convince ourselves that we can really own something.

Originally posted Nov. 26th, 2006

What does it mean to be enlightened? Surely, it has nothing to do with knowing the answer to every question. Enlightenment has nothing to do with knowledge. It has more to do with asking the right questions from the very start. To know something, anything, you must have not known it at some point in the past. So seeking knowledge has to do with some kind of quest to become more aware of what is going on. All seekers begin their search for God by reading books, or studying under a guru. It all starts with ideas, with abstract notions of what enlightened life would be like if I had it. Or, does it start with that initial experience of something beyond words… something that can’t ever be known because it can’t ever be expressed without contradiction using words? So the seeker experiences God spontaneously, then begins a knowledge quest to explain the original, transitory experience in terms of what can be known. Seekers want to know God, so they search for a medium of expression that could encompass the ultimate. Eventually, they come to find that God cannot be conceptualized. God’s wisdom can’t be translated into English, it can only be lived. So what then? One must stop seeking. But what is left? What, in short, is enlightenment? Would anyone who were enlightened still speak of it as though it were some higher state of attainment? What has been attained? What does a Buddha know that a seeker does not? If enlightenment is not knowledge, it can’t be much… so what’s the difference?

Originally posted Nov. 28, 2006

With all mind and no body we become like a monk. With all body and no mind we become like a ninja. With body and mind together we become a master. A master has realized his Way. He has recognized himself. He flows with the Tao. He is One with God. It is not occult to experience God. The experience of God is the foundation of all religion and, in fact, all reality. Thousands of years ago, people didn’t have many things to base reality on aside from their own memories. Today, we have such an extensive supply of media that every moment in history is available to us. We therefore base most of our perception of reality on the way our sources of media portray it. Culture is most powerful in this way, when its memories have been mediated and centralized.

Originally posted Nov. 25th, 2006