Whence evil? (The rope-bridge)

 

This is about the problem of evil and the question we all ask at some point in our lives:

Why is there evil? Where does evil come from?

This assumes that you’ll not give yourself a free-pass and say that

  • the Devil did something,
  • there are demons in the world etc.

This kind of answer shows the same logical fallacy as seen in the eternally-receding type of answer to the question:

Q: How did the world come about?

A: God made it.

Q: Okay, who made God?

With this answer, you never reach a point of explaining something, although people are very eager to use it to explain something away (in order to be able to get on with our daily business).

When we employ supernatural explanations to account for the “root of all (evil or things)”, we are not answering anything:

With supernatural explanations we are just giving ourselves a break from reasoning it out.

Coming back to the problem of evil, the question then arises as to how we can discuss it in a rational manner.

On this topic, one tends to despair if one is looking at all that’s happening in the world.

Since we are saying we are rational beings and since we are also (to a degree that is debatable) genetically-programmed and culturally-conditioned beings, we need to ask ourselves:

How does evil come about? What is the mechanism for generating/propagating evil?

I would argue that we have to think about this issue in terms of a rope-bridge.

I’m here building on several metaphors from

which all seem to converge on the idea of describing the correct path/way to live one’s life.

When we talk about a path or a way, we tend to assume that it’s a hard, solid, straight surface on which you can walk on:

Keep to the path. Keep going straight on this path. Don’t fall into the ditch.

This sounds quite easy and this is (one reason) why we find ourselves bemused by the sheer weight, diversity and proliferation of evil around us. It does appear that at any given time, a great number of people are happily jumping in the ditch whenever there’s the slightest temptation to do so.

So we have to ask ourselves:

Is the path-metaphor a true metaphor?

Yes, it is true that there is a golden middle path, but it is NOT the hard surface we tend to think it would be.

Well, it’s not unless you’ve been training yourself and you’ve dedicated your whole life to walking the path of life very carefully.

In reality it’s more like a rope-bridge following the course of a wild river, a rope-bridge bracketed by canyon-like walls on either side.

Clarification: This is not a bridge across the canyon, but rather a bridge from the spring to the sea.

During our lives we are busy walking this rope-bridge and we’re swinging this way and that way.

  1. Each time we’re swinging to one side and we’re hitting our heads (some part of our moral souls) against a hard wall, we simply want to push away from it.
  2. Our desire to push away from one hard wall is so strong that we usually end up hitting the opposite wall, equally hard and unforgiving.

Whenever we appear to be swinging towards a wall of tears, we become afraid of the looming crash and we exert ourselves to the utmost in the opposite direction, which makes the whole rope-bridge sway more violently.

This jerky movement does not stop with ourselves:

It affects everybody near us.

Accordingly, it doesn’t take long for everybody to find themselves violently thrown this way and that way by this movement (for which they may not be able to identify an immediate cause).

Everybody feels the rope-bridge swinging madly from side to side, but nobody can readily identify the villain. In this situation, everybody will also react by trying to control the swinging in one direction or another. So we have a lot of people

  • pushing this way and that,
  • jumping this way and that,
  • swinging this way and that.

Then again, there are also some people who are just trying to achieve balance:

  • Saying that we need to calm down,
  • Insisting that we need to keep the rope-bridge swinging (ever so slightly) in the Middle,
  • Warning us that attempting to push away too hard will only land us on the other side (another extreme).

We see this in every human (historical) event. We see people jumping from a belief that I-don’t-know-who is the savior (the Messiah) to vilifying the same person as the incarnation of evil.

We see this in our own individual lives. We see people who are faced with a difficult time in their lives:

They don’t see it as a problem of balancing, but rather as a problem of finding the quickest, most forceful way to push away from this difficulty.

When we end up on the other side, bruising ourselves (and perhaps other people around us), we don’t see that it is our own actions which have led to this situation.

I am not saying that evil should be ignored, that we should just lie passive, although non-violent resistance (a la Gandhi) is perhaps one of the most effective balancing acts in history (in terms of mass movements) because people just sit down and refused to be pushed away.

People sit down in the Middle and refuse

  1. not only to be pushed away in the direction that the oppressors push you,
  2. but also refuse to push back against this aggression.

The Indians refused

  1. not only to be pushed by the British into whatever a colonial power wants of their subjects (pay this tax, do that for me, you have this right but you don’t have this right),
  2. but they also refused to push back in the same manner, with the same type of force.

This was genius insight, even if the British type of pushing was different from what was attempted by those behind a person like Hitler.

The push from those standing behind a Hitler is essentially different, since that type of oppressor is actively engaged in throwing others off the rope-bridge.

If my rope-bridge analogy strikes a chord with you, you may come to understand many of the current issues (tragedies, really) we now see in the Islamic world.

Most of these issues continue as an extreme pushing-away from whatever is done by the invading-crusader army or whatever name is given to the NATO, UN or US forces, which (in turn) started as an extreme pushing-against a small minority of

delusional minds who schemed to shake the rope-bridge by cutting off the planks under their own feet in order to plunge others into the abyss below.

Shoving others aside  because

  1. we want to stabilize the bridge &
  2. we are sure we know how to stabilize the bridge

turns out to have the opposite effect in reality.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for the aggressor to feel justified in his aggression because people soon start pushing back (cf. self-fulfilling prophecy).

We have people pushing back and forth and the whole bridge swings ever more violently simply because neither side is willing to calm down to achieve balance.

Why? Because the Middle-Way is the most difficult way and it appears to be the most irrational way:

When the others are still pushing, you can’t just sit down (of course)!

However, this is the only way to go forward. This will require a lot of patience as people need to be educated into becoming aware of the Middle-Way, of the Golden-Path.

This path is not paved, it is not cut in stone so that we can just step on it and go straight.

No, living is a much more unstable path and we make it more unstable with each attempt to change it radically.

So how do we change it? Through small improvements, small Changes-into-the-Better: kaizen (改善) trying to bring this rope-bridge

  • not to a stand-still (that will never be possible),
  • but rather to a point where it’s swinging gently

so that we can continue on our journey in this life.

Tohoku to Tokyo: You selfish bastards

Catastrophic quake-and-nuke disaster predicted in 2003 for TOKYO

Catastrophic quake-and-nuke disaster predicted in 2003 for TOKYO; no longer a possibility. Thank you Fukushima.

Since today is the 11th, let me reminisce a bit, then lambast everybody.

I have been trained as an applied linguist, up to a point; my teachers did their best, but I didn’t do my best because I was also doing a job at the same time, then a big earthquake came and shook me out of my world on March 11, 2011:

It was pretty intense in Tokyo, but not as intense and as severe as in Tohoku (East-North [of Tokyo] 東北).

So if you hear about the 3.11 earthquake in Japan, or if you hear about the disaster in Fukushima (Wealth-Island 福島), your ears should convert this to Tohoku (East-North):

Tohoku is a region, and the whole region has been devastated. It is not just Fukushima (Wealth-Island, a misnomer now, whose irony bites) which is just a city (and a prefecture), just one place.

We are talking the whole coast, the East-North coast of Japan, almost from the tip of the main island (Honshu), there are 4 prefectures on that side, a huge shoreline (400-500 km long) with fishing communities.

So the big disaster didn’t happen in Tokyo, where I was.

I had the easy part; it was intense, but I had the easy part.

Now, at this time I had a job, I was an interpreter in a factory: I’m working near these machines, when the earthquake happens and I’m in a really old building and so on, and so on.

However, I survived very easily, unscratched, like nearly everybody else in Tokyo.

Now I’m talking to everybody in Tokyo:

You selfish bastards… I’m talking from Tohoku (East-North): Do you hear me Tokyo?

You selfish bastards… still becoming more selfish, forgetting about Tohoku (East-North).

I’m sorry I’m saying this in English, but it’s the only way I can say it (but just in case you need a Japanese translation, think

東京人、このワガママ野郎!

I count myself among the selfish bastards, up to a point, but I am conscious that I have been a selfish bastard and I’m trying to improve the dialogue by lending an ear to those guys In Tohoku (East-North).

It was a Tohoku (East-North) earthquake, not just Fukushima. So, to everybody who is worried about the radiation, just shut your mouth. It’s not you, and it’s not only the people in Fukushima, and it’s not the Tokyo people:

It’s the people in Tohoku (East-North), where the earthquake and the tsunami (Harbour-Wave 津波) hit; and then Fukushima hit; and then the pure disregard hit, the disregard shown by Tokyo people after the crisis seemed to have passed (for us, in Tokyo).

When we (in Tokyo) said: “Okay, it’s not going to reach Tokyo, it should be fine; we got lucky”.

We got lucky in Tokyo; very few people in Tokyo remember that it was supposed to be in Tokyo.

You selfish bastards, just sighing with relief (“Glad it wasn’t me”). That was the reaction and I think, no, I know that the Tohoku (East-North) people thought to themselves:

“Look at these idiots, they have it coming soon, but they forgot about us in Tohoku (East-North).

They still want to have nuclear power-plants running.

They still want to keep doing things the same way they’ve been done until now”.

No, my friend. Tohoku (East-North) has been the lesson for Japan, a kaizen (Change-into-Good 改善) lesson; from now on, Japan and Tokyo have to wake up to the reality of where we are.

What’s the reality? The reality is that we have to go and help our brothers in Tohoku (East-North), first of all. Then we have to make sure that we don’t create other regions in Japan as Tohoku (East-North) is right now.

So I’m trying to improve myself as a Tokyo person. It took me ages. The earthquake was felt in Tokyo as well, but it was nothing compared to what it was (and still is) in Tohoku (East-North).

This is another dialogue.

A dialogue to improve the mentality (the mind-direction) not only for people in Tokyo, but for everybody who feels as self-entitled as the Tokyo (East-Capital 東京) residents (e.g., those who feel that they’re victims of radiation in America).

Come on, be serious! You are self-deluded if you think that the radiation from Fukushima is the problem for you now as an American, when you have a movement called “Open Carry” and your political leadership has set the country on the path to become the next Saudi Arabia.

Don’t you think that the apocalyptic scenarios of radiation-induced health problems would have been proven by now at Ground Zero? Short answer:

No discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members of the public or their descendants. The most important health effect is on mental and social well-being, related to the enormous impact of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident, and the fear and stigma related to the perceived risk of exposure to ionizing radiation.”

In Fukushima, people were near the nuclear plant and some of them were probably outside when it exploded, when a hydrogen explosion occurred and blew a cloud of dust full of radioactive particles in the air. Imagine all the nearby places where people were dealing with

“Oh my God, this was the biggest earthquake-slash-tsunami we (and everybody for a thousand years) have ever seen”

This is the moment when this thing blew.

Why did it blow? It blew (of course) because of many and complex factors; Japan is safe in many ways, but it is not safe enough for nuclear power.

How do we know this? We know this from before Fukushima. If you don’t know about the huge safety problems (regarding maintenance procedures) that had been discovered prior to Fukushima, if you don’t know about the health problems of nuclear plant workers in Japan (those who cleaned the reactors when they were operating “normally”), then you have no right to protest against or to argue for nuclear power (both sides in this debate are currently ignorant about the pre-Fukushima period).

First, you have to know what this drive for nuclear energy in Japan has done. It put some people in a position where everybody else agreed that

“These people are not so important, we don’t need to have a dialogue with them”

That’s where we are right now: Nobody wants to speak with the people who are living near these areas, because most of these people have been hit too hard. Not just by the nuclear disaster; but also by the tsunami and the earthquake.

I say that we need to become aware of what our actions mean and what our choices involve in terms of others:

You selfish bastards, wherever you are…

Refused dialogues: Humans and animals

Chain your dog here while you shop.

Chain your dog here while you shop.

 

A big issue (framed in terms of dialogue and equality) is how we, humans, relate to everything else:

  • other animals
  • other life forms
  • other sentient (perhaps intelligent) beings.

This problem is that we have evolved from these lower life forms and now we have come to a point where we consider those equal to us (=other humans in general, hopefully that means “all other humans, without exclusion”) as deserving respect and a degree of consideration that is not readily given to other (lower) animals.

You don’t care about what your dog has to say.

You don’t care enough to listen to what the dolphin in the “big” pool at the aquarium says to you.

What does he say to you? What does it say to you?

Do we develop a special pronoun to use for animals to show that

  1. they’re not humans
  2. they’re not equal partners in this dialogue?

When you go to an aquarium and you watch all these beings moving around, doing stuff, do you feel guilty for extracting them from their natural environment, from Nature itself, and placing them in a four-by-four box, a cage, a space which has four walls?

Caged in…

Why do we cage these animals? Because we’re more intelligent, because we can do it.

Think now about the fact that

we cage other animals, in much smaller cages, to eat them later on.

To keep them from moving while we wait for them to become big enough to be worthy of… the butcher’s knife? The butcher’s hammer?

Do we even want to know the practices that lead to that piece of meat that you have at the restaurant tonight as a steak? Do we want to know how it came to be?

This may explain why many religions have injunctions about the proper treatment of animals

  • to be sacrificed
  • to be eaten
  • to be simply ignored.

Monotheistic religions used to have (and some still do have) strict prescriptions about what animals can be eaten, about the precise ritual to be followed in killing the animal and so on.

Let’s remember the rules for kosher food or halal food (in Judaism and Islam).

How about Christians? With Christians we begin to care less.

We still have people who fast in monasteries, but for the average people, there aren’t many rules about the proper food to be eaten.

Is there a particular rule to be followed by the person who cuts the throat of the pig (or the turkey) which the Christian will partake of? We don’t know (or care much).

However, this is not the case in Islam, and it’s not the case in Judaism, and probably many other religions which may refuse to have anything to do with certain animals, as they used to feel in Japan for a long time about four-legged beasts.

To the Japanese, the land mammals were regarded as ‘four legged creatures’ and, as such, were prohibited food under the dietary constraints of Buddhism.

What could you kill to eat?

Killing is an act of cutting off dialogue at one point, an act of saying

That’s it.

I’m going to continue talking, I’m going to have more dialogues, but that’s it for you.

I’m going to finish your dialogue for you.

We probably do this to animals because we think they cannot have dialogues. They definitely don’t have language (at least not the kind that we speak).

We think we’re entitled, we have the right, and now we have the need, of course. Our nutritional needs… Do we now?

Could we switch? We might be able to switch, but the problem is we don’t want to switch because we are very comfortable where we are: There are many institutions which are very comfortable (with how things are), many corporations, many business interests which are comfortable in doing things the way things are being done right now,

comfortable in thinking about animals as things.

So there’s room for improvement, but notice that in terms of our dietary standards, our criteria for what should be eaten and what not, we have actually become more lax in some cultures, where we don’t care so much.

This is especially true in the more “developed” countries, the consumerist cultures, where people may want to improve when they hear about some bad practice about how the product they use has been created. Notice the consumer movement to

protect the rights of child-workers used by Nike in Indonesia, or I-don’t-know-what fashion designer using cloth woven in I-don’t-know-what factory in Bangladesh.

People dying because factory safety is not a big consideration

  • to keep the cost down
  • to keep us happy
  • to keep some business interest happy.

To keep the current status, we have to refuse some dialogues about safety with people in these countries.

Why do we think this is okay? We don’t think it’s okay:

  1. When this problem is brought to our attention,
  2. a lot of people feel they need to take action
  3. then the business manager feels the need to do something to keep their market share.

The hand of the market, let’s say.

Can we expect the same sort of feedback about bad conditions among animals? Is it reasonable to think this “news” would be delivered at our door-step by an animal, by another human being, by what we call “those crazy animal rights activists”? Notice that we dismiss them from the start.

Why do we dismiss them? Because it is easier.

Of course, there are some exaggerations; we don’t need to jump to the other extreme, of starving ourselves to death.

Extremes will always plunge you into the abyss; keep to the golden middle path.

We’ve learned this in many cultures: Keep your balance.

However, that doesn’t mean that we have to stay in our ignorance, which is the other extreme.

The golden path involves becoming aware and changing (towards-Good).

Think about your consciousness as a river which flows (which is beyond your control), but whose banks you can mold to a certain degree.

A river whose path you can (up to a point) change when you think that you’re eroding, when you think that you’re biting into the soil that would create more life, that would create more goodness in the world.

We could change our paths. Of course, the flow of the water, the push of the water behind us is huge:

We are but a molecule, perhaps, a drop in all this, but if a couple of drops have the power to change their course by nature of their conscious decision to change their course (their path), and more molecules, more drops change their path, then we can start to hope that the river may change its course.

  • When innocent people are dying because of our desire to keep things as they are, just because it’s convenient for us
  • When animals are dying, just because we want to have a tasty morsel and don’t want to face the stark facts…

Aquariums and zoos show us

  • how shut in our own private worlds we have become
  • how shut in from Nature
  • how much we want to box in all that’s out there
  • how much we cobble it all into a shape that’s very easy to manipulate, as objects, not as dialogue partners.

When we do this, we ignore our privilege of being the extension of all living forms on this planet.

As Tohei Koichi (藤平光一) Sensei (先生 Before-Living) has said (my translation from Japanese):

Let us be thankful like children, who receive this gift of life from the Ki of Sky-Earth.

Let us honour our privilege of being given consciousness, of being an extension of the Spirit of animals, Grass and Trees.

我が生命は天地のより氣生じたのである。

草木動物としてではなく、万物の霊長としてこの世に生を享けた事を感謝しよう。

Let us join in the great wheel of life-generating development.

Let us participate in this project of generating and developing life, and let us pledge to live our lives to that end.

天地の生成発展の大経綸に参画し、我が使命を完遂することを誓おう。

(Chapter 2 The value of our existence as human beings 我が人生の存在価値)

Let us fulfill our mission to that end, of furthering life, be it human, animal, plant, or planet itself, Gaea, our mother, whose children we are.

Our mother who has given us the gift of life.

Let us not fall into the extreme of ignorance of our mother: Earth.

slowing down dialogues

Do we need a key when the door is unlocked?

Do we need a key when the door is unlocked?

I am hereby introducing a rational argument for acting morally. I am also deriving some conclusions about death which are no longer knowledge items, but rather beliefs; that being said, my “religion” does not require any “supernatural being” to do any work in order to ensure that GOOD and BAD deeds are rewarded / punished.

This means that I advocate a belief in SOMETHING [the principle that BAD breeds BAD and GOOD breeds GOOD] and not SOMEBODY [dispensing justice]; by the way, I didn’t invent this principle (a.k.a., karma), or, as we say in aikido,

Good causes [result in] good effects. Bad causes [result in] bad effects

善因善果、悪因悪果

And it all comes back to us. Always.

必ず我が身にかえる  

 

 

There is this strange concept in quantum physics that certain things are more likely to be found in certain places, at certain frequencies, set at spaced intervals. You could think of these as “lucky numbers” (or solutions to complicated equations beyond your average person’s grasp).

I would venture a hypothesis that

the human brain has been culturally conditioned in each society to accept dialogues of a certain length

  • 3 minutes for a song
  • 20-30 seconds for a conversational turn
  • 1-2 minutes for a self-introductory speech, etc.

Dialogues undershooting or overshooting this set number by a significant margin are rejected out of hand as anomalous

(to grasp this, think how inappropriate a four-second song or a ten-minute self-introductory speech feels).

In addition to the culturally-set values, we would also have been conditioned biologically (as animals):

How long could you pay attention to a single stimulus before that would endanger your survival?

Before that would encroach on everything else you had to attend to?

Maybe you had to go procure food, right? You don’t have time to listen to this guy talking for more than… half a minute? One minute?

The acceptable length of a casual dialogue is built into us by our evolutionary history and I assume that it would be under a minute.

Imagine a Neanderthal having a conversation with another Neanderthal; how many grunts?

How about the anatomy? Would all the parts of the vocal tract (which we take for granted in homo sapiens) be there to allow speech and for how long?

Would I have been choking more because the anatomy was not as perfected as it has come to be in the meantime?

The shape of the mouth has changed; think about how much difficulty a monkey has in maintaining control of all the muscles (lips, tongue etc.) which appears so natural and easy to us?

So that’s it, 3 minutes [if you’re listening to the audio track].

That’s all the time I could keep your attention, so good-bye.

Now, if I assume that your attention span is only 3 minutes long, things become interesting.

  1. If it really is only 3 minutes long and you tuned out, then you’re not listening to this.
  2. So I’m now talking to the other guys, the guys who have a longer-than-three-minutes tolerance for one voice recording.

Mind you, a high tolerance of long-winded arguments is not necessarily a virtue; maybe I’ve sounded idiotic, or incoherent after the first minute passed and you’ve decided 3 minutes is the limit, after that you’re just going to stop listening.

When did you stop listening? Well, if you did, then you’re not listening to this anymore.

So now I’m talking to the other guys, the minority.

Who belongs to this (incredibly patient) minority? The people who listen for 15 minutes?

My own style of speaking is organized as a rant, where I just run through the fields; discourse involves “running about” (currere, let’s remember the Latin). It’s a rambling dialogue where I’m talking and you just happen to be in the minority who have nothing better to do than listen, or who are

just intrigued by this self-infatuation that is so patently demonstrated by this fellow who is posing as an English speaker, but is obviously more or less pretending to be one.

Yeah?

You can see through me so easily, right? As an English speaker, my friend, as an English speaker.

You can’t see through me as a Romanian.

You can’t see through me as a Japanese.

You can’t see through me, not through my head, but you can see some parts of me, those which I put into words on a track that’s (usually) 15 minutes long.

Allow me to proceed to the crux of this dialogue:

If you listen carefully to all that’s happening around you, then you realize that sometimes you need to listen more carefully.

I’m not sure if you’re catching the (sounds of the) movements of the fan blades that are turning near my room (where I am now walking around and talking).

[Obviously, you need to play the audio file to understand all references to sounds]

I’ve had this insight when I was in Tsukuba (Japan) some years ago; I was at a friend’s house, it was raining, it was night time, I was on the balcony, and I kept hearing this noise combined with the noise of the blades of the fan of the air-conditioning unit; I’ve heard this noise that sounded very strange but somehow familiar. Then it just hit me that it was

the sound of rain hitting the cars passing in front of the house:

Ssshhhh, ssshhhh, sssshhhh…

Each car would go through a certain space, would hit a certain number of drops of water falling from the sky, the impact of which would ripple the sounds (sound waves) through the air and these would eventually hit my ear drums; then my brain would spend some time struggling to assign a source to this sound

(the sound of cars passing through rain).

So we spend time in assigning cause, but we’re usually not paying that much attention because we don’t have enough time, there are too many sounds going on around us.

Then, I listened to the AC fan blades and at some point I realized that, if I meditated long enough, I could feel it slowing down,

I could hear each blade individually, I could hear it going through the air and hitting the air particles, and then these air particles would ripple and the waves would hit my ear drums.

The insight, the revelation I want to talk about is not this, of course; so far it was just interesting.

The revelation was that as we would lay dying at some point in our lives, these sounds (from the world around us) would still strike us, but

  • the intervals between each wave would feel longer, and longer, and longer
  • time would seem to slow down, and then slow down, and then slow down some more.

Now, my guess is that in this final dialogue

  • when your body is probably paralyzed,
  • when the blood stops flowing to your brain,
  • when the last sound is that of the last beat of your heart:

boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom…

Let’s say that was the last one… but there wouldn’t be a last one in terms of what you (=the dying person) perceive.

It would be continuously slowing down, but the time interval perception would just continue to grow, and each interval would seem longer, and longer, and longer…

What does this tell us in terms of what we should do on this planet, while we’re here alive? It tells us that we should live our lives in the best manner possible.

No, simply because there would be a lot of intervals of time in that last dialogue you have to carry with yourself for longer, and longer, and longer intervals of time, as you’re slowing down, more, and more, and more.

At that moment (when you’re dying) there would be so much time that you’d probably be going back (the famous re-living of life experiences and so on).

Of course, I am not sure of this; I haven’t died and come back to tell you, but I have an almost religious conviction at this point that

the moment of dying only exists for those who remain but does not exist per se for the person dying.

Always getting slower, never completely stopping.

The complete stop would not occur, because that’s when time would stop, that’s when you’d say:

Okay, that’s the last interval.

There would never be such a time, there would be no end; when time stops, that would be it, but that would be it in terms of you while you’re still here, and while you’re still here there’s still time, there’s still an interval of a dialogue going on in which you might have to account (to yourself) for all you’ve done while you were alive.

Who were you?

How long did you talk to yourself and how long did you talk to others?

How will you look back to all that you have done?

Imagine how much more terrible this dialogue would be for a suicidal person, and you will understand why suicide is bad, intrinsically.

Imagine how much worse would this dialogue be for somebody who has killed another person, because this would be re-lived again and again, in slower and slower motion, each time unable to go back and change it.

Each time full of regret, full of the same, essentially bad, feelings that you’ve experienced originally.

Imagine how much more rewarding and how much better it would be to re-live mostly good experiences…

So this is important as a moral compass not just for me in terms of what I should do from a selfish point of view

“I want to rest in peace as I lay dying”

but also in terms of me and how I affect others and how I could possibly change their eternities spent as they lay dying, those eternity-bound dialogues in the last moments, in which they review their lives and how I have impacted them.

Would they be a series of pleasant, funny, amusing, touching moments?

Or, revolting, disgusting, hateful moments?

So choose well my friend, choose well while you’re alive, not just for yourself but also for others because

in each moment of our lives we’re deciding those last dialogues for each other and we’re setting ourselves up for an eternity of living good or bad experiences in those last moments.

So here’s my religious experience, my mystical insight. You can share yours, if you like.

Post Scriptum: The above principle does not guarantee that

if you do GOOD, you will live a GOOD (=happy) life and nothing BAD (=horrible) will happen to you

Unfortunately, the reverse is true as well:

People doing BAD stuff can have all sorts of GOOD stuff happening to them.

We all know this constitutes an insurmountable argument against the existence of a God-like figure, but some of us are comfortable going around it by (sup)posing the existence of another supernatural world where things get balanced somehow.

Nevertheless, if you share my belief and act accordingly,

you only have to worry about the GOOD and BAD stuff for which YOU are personally responsible.

If a drunk driver runs over me (=BAD stuff), this will not haunt me in my final moments (=eternities) because it is not something I lived to regret; however, the drunk driver will not have this luxury and he will have to spend many a moment (=eternity) pondering his responsibility for this BAD act and all the BAD acts that would (almost inevitably) follow.

It sounds naive, but doing GOOD is (in the very long run) the easy path as it ensures you will have peace of mind for (that illusory-but-otherwise-very-real-to-your-consciousness) eternity.

Of course, doing GOOD is (in the short run) the difficult path because you cannot take any of the (BAD) shortcuts as these would haunt you for (that illusory-but-otherwise-very-real-to-your-consciousness) eternity.

Dialogue with your Body: Walking and Dreaming

Are we the dragon, the rider, or both?

Are we the dragon, the rider, or both?

 

I suppose everybody is at some point following up on a dialogue with one’s Self.

If you do this long enough you probably know that we are ultimately always in dialogue with our Selves:

It’s not just a dialogue with one person; it’s a dialogue with a million simulation subjects, simulations of Reality which you’re running in your head.

Your brain is the hardware and you’re running a procedure for doing I-don’t-know-what.

Consider walking around: You’re not aware of every muscle that has to move.

We cannot even name (let alone control) all the muscles in our legs that have to move together as we’re walking around.

Even if you’re a doctor you’d be pretty challenged to name them, second-by-second as the situation changes: Now it could be some muscle in the tip of the toe, but later it could be another in the heel.

How are you walking? Which part of your body is the first to touch the floor?

That’s what our Bodies do all the time and we think we (should be able to) control it perfectly.

We (usually) don’t wonder how this happens.

No bouncing against walls…

Also, no stepping on branches, stones or rocks…

Even surfaces, carved and polished for us. A warm place to go to bed to.

Our experiences are very different, but one common experience is that of

everybody feeling at some point that it is safe to sleep.

Now, once we sleep, we have no control, because we dream.

I don’t know if you are aware of the latest developments in dream theory, by which I mean neurobiology (*) and trying to explain what’s going on in our brains using MRI to identify activation of certain brain areas.

One crucial aspect of dreaming is that you lose executive control, which is a fancy name for

the feeling that you-the-puppet-master pull some strings and your body follows your instructions.

You lose the (feeling that you have the) power to control everything.

You know how in every dream you never quite get the movements right?

  • Even when you do feel like you’re manoeuvring yourself (=your body), everything is very strange.
  • Even if you can fly (let’s say) and you’re not crashing, it feels very awkward and temporary to dream yourself like this.

Perhaps you flap your arms to keep flying, or perhaps you jump in a certain manner that defies gravity, but either way

you have some procedure for flying and you’re just following it, without wondering:

Is this even possible?

There is no stopping from second to second because you feel like there’s no time to pause as every moment is fraught with peril:

  • Oh, no, I’m falling [FLAP HARDER, JUMP HIGHER].
  • Whew, that was close.
  • Oh, no, not again [FLAP HARDER, JUMP HIGHER].
  • Repeated ad infinitum.

What would your experience be if this were possible when you’re awake? Well, usually it’s not, so we don’t run a procedure for it.

Nowadays, we have airplane pilots and drivers of extremely-fast cars. Do they become one with the machines they’re controlling?

You become identified with the thing you use to move around in.

What foot-prints do we leave on the path on which we’re walking aimlessly [=plugged in our smart devices] as we cannot go back and re-trace our footsteps?

Whatever path we choose has to be matched against Reality and this is where the zen (禅 Meditation) part comes in:

What’s the Reality around you? And that’s where you have to be quiet…

* As a side note worth pondering, “neurobiology” is rendered in Japanese as

  • “the Study of Gods-Passing-through Living-Things” (神経生物学),

so bear in mind that

  • neurones (shin-kei 神経) are the paths through which Gods (kami 神) Pass (heru 経る); “gods” in plural because we’re not talking about the creator of Adam and Eve.

Soul illusions shaping our reality

Gracias, little brother, I know it's not easy being friends with me

Gracias, little brother, I know it’s not easy being friends with me

Speaking of epiphanies (again in the Religion category), there are moments in our lives when

  • we perceive something wrongly, but
  • this helps us to perceive correctly something else.

Usually this happens when you think something is in a certain manner and the difference between your initial perception and the subsequent revelation seems to have a lot of consequences in terms of improving your understanding

  • beyond noticing the actual difference,
  • beyond the idea that presents itself as truthful and reveals your initial assumption to be mistaken.

Allow me to illustrate with an example taken from my personal experience:

I was at the seaside with my good friend, Julian, and we were enjoying life as young people do; at the same time we were blissfully ignorant of many-many other aspects of life because we’re young and ignorant (nowadays, I guess we’re just the latter).

At this point I experienced an optical illusion, a mis-perception caused by looking up for too long on a bright, beautiful day; it was a cold, cloudless spring-day, and I was watching this eagle floating above a cliff that was jutting towards the sea.

As I was watching the eagle, my eyes fell upon the cliff itself and I was not surprised to find its shadow moving across the cliff face, when I was startled by the realisation that

the eagle’s shadow, instead of being black against an illuminated green (grass) and grey (stone) background, was actually completely lit, the way you’d have if you’re shining or reflecting a light from a wrist-watch or a mirror.

I could see a bright beam of light moving across the same cliff face where the eagle’s shadow should have fallen. Naturally, this resulted into the sort of facile philosophising you can imagine:

The shadow is light and you can take it from here.

That was the initial experience which I thought very insightful at that time but I soon discovered that I was very superficial in my appraisal of

  • where we were in the world,
  • where I was in the world.

At this point, we heard these dogs (Dobermans) barking behind us; it dawned on us that we were in a place that was not meant to be used as a public beach, and now the question presented itself to us:

What do we do about these two Dobermans who look pretty menacingly as they’re barking and blocking our way back?

So we tried to find a different path to go back to where we came from, back to our safe world, when the dogs started running downhill towards us. During this chase, as we’re scrambling across stones and boulders covered in seaweed, I’m reflecting on the fact that this will probably be a very unequal fight with these dogs who seem so powerful and about whose ferocity I (thought I) knew a lot.

At this point I was engaged in a dialogue with myself where I recast myself as the hunted (fighting for his life)

so that when we reached this point where we couldn’t climb up any more and the dogs were upon us, I turned around to face them, just thinking “How are we going to fight?”

We didn’t have any weapons or sticks, so I could only envision a fight where we would just bite each other, basically devolving back to the animal fighting for survival. I was looking at these animals, at these dogs’ muscles and teeth, which appeared not so much as teeth as fangs, right? I looked at these creatures, which would soon be upon us, and I assumed this aggressive posture.

It is at this point that my good friend, Julian, saved us (“us” meaning “us = the humans and the dogs”) from a really bad experience by changing his perception, by remembering his true self:

He had a different dialogue running in his head, obviously, and he decided that these dogs would like to become friends with us.

You see, they just wanted to say hello to us.

So he starts talking (dialogue) with the dogs: “They just want to be friends”.

Of course, I had my doubts since we had just been running and we had been chased (it didn’t feel like a dialogue), but I remained passive as I just didn’t know what else we could do. I watched as my good friend Juli responded

  • with a positive feeling of openness,
  • with equal dialogue,
  • with love towards these two dogs,
  • who soon responded in kind.

I found myself staring in disbelief two minutes later, as Juli was sitting down next to one dog and patting it on the head with the dog looking very happy, and I was still trying to get rid of

the last simulation of fight-to-the-death, nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw dialogue that I had in my head.

Then it hit me: This was a very good instance of a self-fulfilling prophecy:

  • I projected death, violence, fight, bite, kill, and it came back to me;
  • Juli projected love, trust, positive feelings, let’s be friends, and it came back to him, and I saw the dog licking his hand.

I realised that the intellectual in me who was so excited to discover the play-on-words between shadow and light based on a simple optical illusion was very shallow.

I found myself stunned to discover that I suffer from a psychological illusion of control and that I’m making myself my own enemy without realising it.

You can call it a soul illusion, that my soul was blacker than I would have liked to think, and this almost got reflected back to me and could have caused a very messy episode.

So I say this to all of you out there who feel that fear is just the expression of a healthy survival instinct meant to give us early warning and ensure our safety:

  • Safety comes not from fearing and giving in to our negative feelings and projecting those onto Others;
  • Safety comes from trusting and engaging Others in dialogues, as equal partners, as partners to be trusted.

That should be our default stance when we are not sure about what is actually happening, when nothing bad has actually occurred yet.

Do not subscribe to the idiot’s [from Greek idios “one’s own] dogma of preemptive attack, who would push himself and others around him into this drama of fighting for one’s life, when this is not a fight or a competition.

It could (in fact) depend on your mindset at that time and your conscious decisions could turn it into a dialogue of love.

  • Thank god (meaning Sky-Earth) for South Americans and their spirit.
  • Contrast this with the Eastern European grimness.
  • And come out from all this with an epiphany, an (intuitive) understanding of how we can improve our world.

kaizen now

Can you see what is bad?

Can you see what is bad?

The idea of kaizen (Change-to-Good 改善) occurs rather naturally in Japan because people here are so anchored to the immediate, to the actual-now situation (現状 genjo):

What is happening now, that is bad?

There is an insistence on first looking at and identifying the immediate reality.

Where another culture encourages people to take a more long-term approach

“Let’s plan something as far away as the ideal, the perfect society”: Utopia

in Japan people ask

“Okay, but how does it compare with the world we live in, now?”

The kaizen idea recognizes the small place we occupy in the world and acknowledges that improvements will be achieved on a very small scale (if at all). That being said, it is this sum of small contributions, of reducing that which is bad (from the world), which brings us closer to the good.

If we set out to achieve peace on Earth, we have to ask:

What is peace? It is absence of war, which is bad; peace is good.

If we can create an environment where everybody treats everybody else like an equal dialogue partner, then that’s something good.

These are ideals, though. Let’s look at the current situation.

What is the current situation? The current situation, where? In my personal life? In your personal life? In a society?

Consider North Korea. If you’re in North Korea, what kind of dialogue could you have if you apply the concept of kaizen? What can you improve?

How can you make your society better if you’re North Korean?

Ask yourself that.

Is there something bad in North Korea, now? Yes, there is: Political prisons, torture, human rights abuses, plenty of bad things.

How do we deal with all the bad stuff? Of course, we might try to describe the ideal society that North Korea should become. I don’t know, maybe we think of South Korea as the ideal society, at least in terms of geographical proximity; American style democracy? Northern European style democracy? South American style of political organisation?

These are not important: These are OUR ideals.

What’s important is what a North Korean can do in his country. What can he do? He can look around, take a good look around and ask himself: Can I see what is bad? And how can I improve it? How can I make some small part of it good again? Well, let me give you a hint:

Start by considering others as dialogue partners, not as objects of fear.

Fear is the dominant feeling in North Korea. What is bad around you? Think about it.

But if you’re North Korean you’re not listening to this; or if you’re listening, you probably don’t understand this. Do you understand the kaizen concept? Or do you think that it’s an imperialist Japanese plot? Of course you think that it’s a plot: That’s the politically correct thing to do if you’re North Korean.

What is bad in South Korea? The island that Japan wants to claim as its territory? Or that China wants to claim as its territory?

We are talking about places over which millions of people would literally go to death over, in the 21st-century. How crazy is that?

Why do we still do this? Because we still think that it’s better to concentrate on the ideals, not on eliminating that which is bad at our level, but on re-creating from scratch an entirely new structure, an ideal form, which we never achieve.

We can never achieve perfection. The perfect good does not exist. Not in this world. There would always be something bad, but nothing will change if we are not working in the current situation, Japanese-style:

1. Look at the Current-Situation (gen-jo 現状)

2. Think what  wec an do to improve it

3. Explain the method

4. Describe the results you expect

5. Implement the change

6. Compare expected results with the actual results

Did I improve anything by creating a blog in this spoken-dialogue format? Not yet.

Why do I do this? Because I’m trying to improve the dialogue.

What dialogue? The one that we have, whoever we are, wherever we are.

How about if you’re somebody in the United States? How can you improve your society? Not make it perfect, just improve it by thinking about what is bad NOW. The drone idea is bad now.

People are being killed right now and we think it is justified; people are killed by machines flying in the sky, for reasons everybody forgot: terrorism, religion… Is it?

Why is it bad? It’s bad because we are killing other people as well. Who are these people? What are these people? “Collateral damage”? These other (innocent) people are important too, but more crucially we the Americans are killing ourselves.

If we are Americans, if we think of ourselves as Americans, we are killing ourselves.

If you don’t believe me, read the testimony from any soldier, talk to any soldier that has been in Afghanistan or Iraq and you’ll realise that a significant part of them has died together with those people that he blew to pieces by pressing the rifle trigger (or a button on the joystick perhaps in Colorado).

These people have died together, even if they continue to live as shadows haunting their own families at home.

It would be a huge fight ahead for anybody who has been through this; of course, more so for the victims, but the Americans have the freedom to stop this. The Afghans? Who knows? What kind of freedom do you have if you are in Afghanistan?

How can you improve things if you’re in Afghanistan? In Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and everywhere else where things are flying in the sky and blasting your world apart because a mad man walks nearby.

How can we (anywhere) improve things? Well, first of all, how about treating each other as equal dialogue partners? Sounds naïve, right? Sounds idealistic. Yes, but let’s talk first about what is good, and when we come up with a pretty good definition of what is good in our understanding

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

let’s put it out to a vote. Let’s vote in both places: in the US and in Afghanistan, for example.

Should the bombing stop? Let’s vote on this. Are we voting already? Are the Americans still voting to bomb? Did anybody ask them? Or is it Congress only? Could we have a referendum not only for the laws of our own country (on constitutional revision), but also on what we do as a nation to another nation?

On top of what is our flag being waved?

Is it on top of the Reichstag?

Or is it on top of a nuclear missile?

What are we doing? Where are we going with this?

I hope the dialogues can improve the future, of course.

Why do I care about the future? It’s a good question. I have a daughter and I want her to have a future. What’s the future? The future is one where the whole planet comes together and deals with this situation we’ve created called Global warming:

We’ve heated up the planet and this has caused much instability. I hope you’ve noticed.

So what do we do now? We learn to deal with it, but we’ve got to have a dialogue about this.

With whom? With the people who don’t agree, with those living in denial? No, with Nature. We have to have our own dialogue with Nature and listen to what it’s saying back to us. What is the feedback?

Is nature that thing from which we get our resources and that’s it? Or are we giving something back?

If we’re giving something back, what is it? Carbon dioxide? Anything else? Plastic?

What else do we give, what else did we create on this planet? Pyramids, skyscrapers, cities, rivers of waste, millions of animals sacrificed every day to eat, forests cut down?

What do we give BACK? Not what we take, but what we give back, what we create.

We create dialogues, we create meaning, we’ve created language to communicate and to help us work together in better ways, with better dialogues.