"May Adonai bless you and protect you! May Adonai deal kindly and graciously with you! May Adonai lift up his countenance upon you and grant you peace!" (Torah, Numbers 6:24-26) And Jesus said, "Allow the little children to come unto me. Forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of God. Truly, I say unto you, unless you receive the Kingdom of God as a little child does, you shall not enter therein." (New Testament, Mark 10:14-16)

Sojourning at an Oasis Paradise

My purpose for living this life, and for writing this blog, is to understand the faith that links us to God. I wish to explore and discuss the reality at the heart of all of the world's religions. This is an immense task, but I know that God also has faith in us, trusting that we do desire the truth, as well as freedom, love and wisdom. Thus, as always, He meets us halfway. Even as God has given us individual souls, so we must each of us trace out an individual pathway to God. Whether we reside in the cities of orthodox religion, or wend our solitary ways through the barren wastelands, God watches over us and offers us guidance and sustenance for the journey.

Most of what you will see here is the result of extensive personal study, combined with some careful speculation. Occasionally, I may simply offer some Scripture or an inspirational text. I am a wide reader, and the connection of some topics and ideas to matters of faith and religion may not seem immediately obvious, but perhaps I may spell it out in the end... or maybe, you will decide that it was just a tangent. Anyway, I hope that you will find my meanderings to be spiritually enlightening, intellectually stimulating, or at least somewhat entertaining.

In the coming weeks and months, I intend to transcribe a series of essays that I wrote about 20 years ago in the hope that I might get them published. They represent the nucleus of my spiritual life and the focal point around which my wanderings revolve like an electron in an atom. I hope that they might eventually serve as a springboard for discussions about the common spiritual heritage of humanity. May we come together and embrace each other in peace.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

On the Human Condition (Wellspring, Ch. 1) pts. 3 & 4

C. The first step on the road to utopia

       One may think it strange to be talking about social change and utopia in a book about spiritual traditions, but a universal and primary aim in religion has been to reorder society for the benefit of a  people, by refining its culture and bringing them into harmony and balance with the natural order of creation.  From the very beginning of recorded story and literature - whether mythological or ethical - this has been the aim of religion.  We can find this theme in every tradition in existence in one form or another.  The more emphasis a particular tradition puts on life in this world, one finds a clearer expression of utopianism in its precepts, prescriptions for behavior and ultimate goals.  Even if there is a hope for an afterlife, the desire for social community united in worship gives rise to a form of utopianism to be found in the next world, i.e., the heavenly city.  The fewest utopian refrains are to be found in those traditions which despair of this world, and whose people desire only to be dissolved into the incomprehensible mystery of Being-and-Non-being. But these too often have an ethical tone in their asceticism, as they try to lessen the suffering experienced here.  So utopianism is an integral part of any discussion of the unity of religious faiths.
       As I may have mentioned before, society is an instance of a cybernetic system.  It is a whole only by the union of its many parts interacting together.  It is self-regulating, self-fixing and spontaneously brings forth order.  Like any other cybernetic system, it needs an energy source.  It includes multiple levels of order.  And pressure on its parts disturbs their functioning, while non-interference brings them together.  What is unique about this system is that its parts are people.  Any cybernetic system can be described by listing its eight relationships:
  1. Society is a collection of people who live together as an extended community in order to pursue shared goals and ideals.
  2. Its people interact with each other and conduct business on the basis of individual differences, and their treatment of each other shapes their regard for society.
  3. Society depends on the availability of material resources and sources of energy for the sustaining of its people and its commerce, and creates waste products which must be recycled or disposed.
  4. Society interacts mutually with both its urban conditions and its ecological environment, and must maintain harmony and order in both spheres of influence, and a balance between the two.
  5. Each new generation takes its culture, lifestyle, expectations and ideals from its parents, through socialization and education, and breathes new meaning and life into them.
  6. People develop functional institutions and organize neighborhood communities to meet social needs and for recreational purposes.
  7. Excessive demands for conformity and/or economic hardship create social unrest and crime.
  8. Society is governed, through various forms and methods, by the intentional design and, ultimately, by the consent of its people.
       By viewing the organization of society in this fashion, perhaps we can gain a perspective which will allow us to understand the way it works.  A proper understanding of society can give us the freedom to attempt to change its institutions, or forms of government, in a realistic way in order to incorporate our ideals into an ever-improving, and eventually utopian community.  However, as in any cybernetic system, random tampering is more likely to create instability and chaos than to reconstitute its order.  We must identify its essential key components if we are to know where to make our adjustments.  From the foregoing description, we can readily see what the key components of society are: Faith, Property, Energy, Ecology, Education, Urbanization, Criminology, and Government.  In a later chapter, I shall offer my suggestions as to how each of these elements of society may be changed in order to create a better society and, by doing so, to create a better world in which it would be much more desirable to live.

d. Our attitude toward change

       For various reasons, no utopian dream has ever been fully realised on a wide scale in human history.  This failure has not been due to any inherent unrealism in the dream of an improved society.  The utopian visionary necessarily builds upon the ideas and possibilities which are available in his or her time, and there have been real and significant improvements in society.  Nor has it been for any lack of supporters, for there have been many attempts to bring such ideas into fulfillment, on small scales as well as large.  Though it is true that small scale efforts are occasionally more apparently successful than those that take on the task of transforming society as a whole.  Still, it is a common response to think that any serious utopian proposals are inevitably unfeasible.  This is not necessarily so.  Utopian ideals have created the world in which we live today, despite the unforeseen problems and complications that plague us.  And they have shaped much of our current political thought, as well as our various ideologies. What we have lacked is sufficient foresight, and the desire to forge a workable consensus.
       Yet there are important reasons for why we have always failed to create a utopian society.  First, although the idealist creates the vision with the contemporary society and its capabilities in mind, many of the changes suggested would require the better part of a century to accomplish.  During all this time, society is constantly changing, thus the conditions which originated the ideas and made them possible have passed away.  So, whatever modifications have been made find themselves side-tracked from their intended goal.  Moreover, when the vision was conceived, the society likely had no means of putting it into practice as a whole, nor would most people have understood and agreed if it had been possible.  Ordinary people do not have the degree of foresight, altruism or faith in human nature that is characteristic of the utopians.  Few idealists can even approximately guess the difficulty that will face the full realization of their dream.
       Another reason that utopian visions are often disregarded is that the initial product of genius is frequently rough-hewn, and thus at first sight appears unworkable.  It will require time and the sustained efforts of others to complete its creation, and this will come forth only if the aim of the proposal seems to be necessary to the health of society.  No one person is capable of such thorough imagination as it would require to completely envision, step by step, the wholesale transformation of society.  Therefore, it is usually only the philosophical ideals and ultimate aims of the dream which are ever taken to heart.  But these do continue to surface in the thoughts of other writers and innovators.
       Also, even if there is a significant possibility for transformation to take place, the society's leaders, politicians and vested interests may feel that their authority and positions are threatened, and for reasons of self-interest make every effort to maintain the status quo.  The general public, also, comfortable in their daily routines, may feel uneasy about trying alternative lifestyles, especially if it will cost them money or effort to make the changes involved.  Unless a subtle sense of unease or dissatisfaction is widespread, the normal inertia of society will subdue any revolutionary impulses and postpone the development of utopia.
      The last and perhaps most important reason is the general habit of despair that denies any chance of such visions taking root.  The mere historical fact that none have so far succeeded is regarded as proof of the inevitability of failure, as if it is the divine will to forego the efforts of earthly human beings.  This is obviously absurd, but nonetheless accepted.  This observation was shared by the scientist and philosopher, Francis Bacon, who wrote in his book "Novum Organum" that "by far the greatest obstacle to the progress of science and the undertaking of new tasks ... is found in this, that men despair and think things impossible. ... If therefore anyone believes or promises more, they think this comes of an ungoverned mind."  In any age, the necessary prerequisite for any kind of progress is initiative and the determination to get things done.  If anything is definitely and forever impossible, it is because no one will try.
       It is for the first and second of these reasons that , when I give my suggestions on how I would modify the eight key components of society, I will try to be brief and concentrate on the purposes and aims of each suggestion, rather than on their concrete development.  I feel that if the reasons for each suggestion are clear and worthy of implementation it will be much more likely that some effort will be made than if I were to describe a fully developed system.  As for the last two reasons for difficulty restraining the development of utopia, perhaps only persistent efforts of persuasion and a creative approach to education offer any hope of overcoming such attitudes.  Unfortunately, such self-centered manipulation and popular apathy and ignorance are in perennial evidence.

(Sources and influences will be acknowledged in a later blog entry. Your patience is appreciated.)

Monday, December 2, 2013

On the Human Condition (Wellspring, Ch.1) pt.2

b. tragedy and transformation

       It is no secret that life is full of tragedy.  The Buddha's assertion that life is suffering has become one of the primary tenets of oriental philosophy.  And yet, so much of the suffering we experience is caused by human behavior and misconceptions.  If we meet life with a set of expectations, we tend to fulfill our expectations - by not only precipitating the responses and circumstances we expect, but also by selective awareness and seeing what we want to see.  Yes, I said "want."  No one truly desires to be proven wrong until one is ready to modify one's viewpoint and behavior.  But it is true that if we treat someone with mistrust and disrespect, quite often that person will behave in a fashion which will merit it, or at the very least return those attitudes to us.  It takes a very strong personality to avoid responding to another with a reciprocal attitude, or with anger if we feel denigrated.  Of course, if we are treated with respect and compassion, we tend to automatically respond with the same in return.  This is not a secret.  We learn our behavior patterns from our interactions with each other, and we carry those patterns with us through life, even when we ascend to positions of social authority.  However, it is possible to consciously change our behavior, and no longer cling to outmoded and unwanted patterns.  It is difficult to do individually, but we can set up more favorable conditions in a community by agreement to facilitate the change.

       The ability of human beings to transform our behavior and modes of social interaction is basic to our nature.  It happens quite predictably, though without our awareness, as time passes and the customs of generational peer groups and the policies of various institutions change.  We do not live in the same world as our great-grandparents.  We can also take this process into our own hands and make the changes consciously, and not only for ourselves but for society as well.  There have been social revolutions which have succeeded, when the ideas behind them spread fast enough, even against resistance.  But this takes place much easier among friends and in small groups of people.  The reason for this is that individuals feel more concerned when the ideas seem to affect them directly, and not in some vague and nebulous way applying only to society in general.  It is easier to perceive the necessity for change in ourselves than in society at large, due to our limited capacity for comprehension, and it is easier to see our friends problems than our own, as distance lends us a measure of objectivity.  But before we begin to criticize, we must be willing to listen and learn from others.  Thus we need an agreement to help each other if we wish to make changes, especially in social behavior.

       As human beings, we have a reflexive consciousness and the capacity to be self-aware and self-examining, and thereby have an ability to create a consistent pattern of mental and behavioral organization.  That is how we inculcate habits, good or bad, by repeating behaviors that we find valuable. By the same effect, we also have an equal ability to resist change in our behavioral patterns, so we need to intentionally utilize our capacity to be molded by society and experience, especially as children.  As we grow, we develop an ability to make value judgements about the things that affect our lives, and this helps to understand our social responsibility.  It is this understanding, and our self-awareness, which gives us the capacity for conscious transformation of our mental and behavioral patterns, and an increasing capacity for spiritual growth and to transcend our limitations.  This is a corollary to our ability to anticipate the future, and to create a meaning and purpose for interacting with that expectation to change or preserve it.  At any age, we function best in an atmosphere of love and acceptance from our peers, and require freedom as a prerequisite for consensual change.  Pressure or coercion implies a lack of good-will, and an expectation of rebellion, and thus thwarts the adjustment it attempts to create.

       It is tragic that most of our social problems stem from a simple misunderstanding of the human capacity to resist change and the propensity to resent any pressure that comes without our own agreement.  If we wish to change society, we must learn to create those agreements, so that we do not meet an unwarranted intensity of resistance and conflict.  However, we must always remember that the inherent resistance to change takes considerable time to overcome, and even though a individual may consciously agree with the necessity, the behavior may occasionally slip into its previous pattern.  This is not the time for harsh criticism, but for a simple reminder and support.  Otherwise, one runs the risk of strengthening the resistance to any change.  The hope of preventing suffering and tragedy rests on an understanding of the human capacity for transformation and transcendance of one's narrow point of view.  We need an agreement to create and live in a society founded on our highest ideals, not on pandering to our base desires and selfish interests.  Those ideals should lead us to build harmonious and happy communities in balance with the natural order of the world.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

On the Human Condition (Wellspring, Chapter 1) part 1

       Our conception of human nature to a very large extent determines our treatment of each other, in both our individual relationships and in society.  Yet even though the study of psychology has begun to change our intellectual understanding of our fellow humans, our society is based on old ideas and feelings which have become largely obsolete.  However, it is very difficult to completely overhaul the foundations and institutions of society in any less than a lifetime, or even two.  It has been tried several times, by various forms of revolution, and it causes unbearable instability, suffering and tendencies toward mob psychology and mass neurosis.  Indeed, any kind of rapid change of the way society works - for example, technological progress - can cause widespread psychological discomfort and role displacement, resulting in uncertainty of what to expect or how we should react to cope with what is happening around us. 

       In any self-regulating system there are a few key components which, if changed, will sooner or later transform the whole system.  Such self-regulating, self-contained systems are often called "cybernetic" by the scientists, engineers and philosophers who study them.  Living organisms, and societies, even the heating and cooling systems in our homes, are examples of cybernetic systems. Typically, in any cybernetic system, there eight such key components that are critical for change and transformation. I shall go into greater depth on this topic later.  In one example - a social revolution - Marxist philosophies chose private property as their primary key component to use as a fulcrum to overturn the injustices of capitalist economics.  But any attempt to totally transform society must have an idea of how to readjust all of the key components to work together, and it helps to have an overall goal and plan in mind.  Thus the question of human nature becomes important, in order to have clear plans about what it will be necessary to change, and to know what kinds of responses one expects to elicit.  Without these, it would be very difficult to know whether one's ideals are truly taking shape.

a. paradox and prejudice
       For ages there has raged a debate about whether human beings are born innately good or evil.  But both of these judgements are essentially social constructs, as are the ideas of virtue and vice.  The real question asks whether society itself is pro-life, i.e., supportive of healthy and happy actualisation of human potential, or anti-life, i.e., stifling and frustrating human development by means of psychic manipulation, inequality and coercion.  Human nature is essentially plastic and neutral, but that does not mean that it cannot become objectively sick.  When we become destructive, sadistic, alienated or fear life more than death, we can be said to be mentally ill.  However, health is the ordinary tendency and aim of all normal living creatures, so long as their environment and circumstances do not inhibit their development.

       When I say that human beings are essentially neutral, I mean that we have no innate tendency to be morally good or evil.  What tendencies we do possess, however, lead us to be adaptable to both the natural environment and our social circumstances, and give us both strengths and weaknesses.  Our abilities to think, reflect and reason are our only tools to allow us to discern what is good or evil, according to how various types of actions tend to promote optimum pro-life outcomes. Physically, humanity has evolved to become non-specializing generalists.  That means we do not require any specific ecological habitat, as we can modify our environment to suit our needs, and we have no instinct to perform any specific task as a way of life.  Instead, we learn how to survive from our families and society.  As the result of this initial dependency, a baby imprints on its parents in the first months of life, and their attitudes and behavior toward it begin a pattern of interaction.  This will affect the way the child will interact with others later on, and shape its expectations of society.  These attitudes, expectations and behaviors can be either reinforced or modified by later training or education, though this does not always occur on a conscious level.  It can be very difficult for the child if teachers and parents do not agree, as the conflict will be internalized and cannot be resolved until one or the other wins, or the child is forced to choose between them.  This parental imprinting and social education of children illustrates the essential plasticity of human nature.  Even in later life, we can be molded by our contacts with other people, but this does not mean that the process is easy.  There is also the counter-tendency toward stability of character, expressed as the child becomes an independent individual and learns to make its own choices, and as an adult when evaluating the society's aims and modes of behavior.

       If there is too much pressure from authority to conform, even an ordinary person may become rebellious, perhaps subconsciously, and find it difficult to look at society's values objectively rather than with suspicion and rejection.  Of course, any overtly rebellious behavior would be interpreted as a threat to social stability, and would bring down reprisal and suppression, one way or another.  But this will only drive the individual's disturbance deeper, causing resentment and a stronger will to resist.  If outside suppression goes still further, breaking the will and the impulse to rebel altogether, that will cause some degree of mental illness.  At any point in this process of enforced conformity, the individual may erupt into violence, defensive and/or destructive, because he feels that he is not valued as a person, and his only recourse to justice is through vengeance and death.  However, given the opportunity and freedom to make one's own decisions and experience life, the person will gradually find appropriate avenues of creative existential expression, and learn to transform unacceptable behaviors into comfortable alternatives.  All this will be accomplished by the innate human need to understand, and to be understood by others, without authoritative pressure.

       It is the essentially isolated nature of human beings, unable to cue in on the thoughts and feelings of others quite reliably, which allows us to become individuals, and gives us a spiritual depth that has never been fully explored.  It also gives us certain weaknesses, for example, our innate selfishness which stems directly from the necessary instinct for survival, and can almost never be completely eradicated.  However, our isolation and individuality also gives us certain strengths designed to help us balance and possibly overcome that weakness.  We have been given the desire, also innate, to know and achieve transcendance.  As we begin to understand that suffering and social anarchy come from self-centered selfishness, we tend to absorb the society's values, if we are not already embittered by mistreatment.  And beyond that, when we experience the vast grandeur of the universe, and the minute intricacies of nature, we begin to wonder where it all came from, and to speculate about God and to question our limitations and understand them.

       It is by reason of this balance of strengths and weaknesses, and of the essentially neutral and plastic nature of human character development, that I must insist that there is no original orientation of human nature toward either good or evil.  There is no "original sin" for which God condemns us, and from which we must be "saved."  Yet it does seem paradoxical that authoritative pressure usually tends to produce results which only superficially conform to its intent, while causing an opposite reaction within the individual.  A person must voluntarily decide and choose to incorporate the values of society for those values to really be his or her own and guide one's actions and even thoughts along approved and productive paths.  We choose to follow when we can think of no better way, even if we are dissatisfied with society, but force is counter-productive.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Wellspring of the Spirit, Introduction ( 1st essay, part 2)

       -- sorry for the long delay... will try to pursue this more frequently now... --
Please, reread 1st essay from the post before the last. (February, 2011) This is just a pick up from where that one left off.  Thank you for your patience. I am trying to post my book, "The Wellspring of the Spirit" in my blog, instead of getting it published. I actually wrote this a long time ago, and have been derelict in my intent to get it published in book form. So many people said it was incomprehensible! I hope you will understand it and return to read each "essay" as it appears here. Thank you again.

   ....We are responsible for the present and the future, individually and collectively.

       The human species has advanced far from the primeval caves and stone tools of our ancestors.  We have much of which to be proud.  Much of the progress we call civilisation is due to the wisdom and innovations of great leaders and thinkers.  But in our uncritical following, the common person has become a slave.  Do we not know how to be civilised by now?  Certainly we do.  We know that we would rather have peace when our leaders want war.  We know that we want to be free when our leaders begin to oppress us.  We know these things just as we know that we want kindness between neighbors and love in our families.  But we do not know what to do in order to achieve these things... or so we profess.  Our real problem is that we are slaves allowing ourselves to be led where we know we do not wish to go.  We must decide to make our own choices, and not allow the status quo - nor any new order of which we do not approve - to be imposed upon us without out consent.  It does not matter which country you live in, if you do not agree with something your government is doing you must say so, with as many people as you can find who agree with you, regardless of the possible consequences.  When the leaders of a nation attempt to suppress dissent, they are abrogating their mandate to rule.  Any threat or use of force depends on the people accepting, and even perpetrating, their leaders directions.  In utter servility to their masters' wishes, the people divide against themselves. Such foolishness!  As if obedience absolves one of moral responsibility!  How can any people properly educated with a sense of community and love for their neighbors do such a thing?  Absurd! You have a conscience.  Negotiation is the obvious answer to disagreement.  Any state which brings up its people without those necessary components of civilisation needs to have a new set of leaders, and those leaders should be the people themselves.  New leaders with a new ideal - an ideal of an honest, free, loving and wise humanity.

       As you read this book (blog), it is my fervent hope that you will find the bases upon which to build this new ideal.  Let it be a spiritual ideal which will once again advance civilisation into a happier age.  Yet let us not wait on the reforms of government alone.  As individuals, we can form smaller communities to develop the organisations and relationships which will embody our hopes.  We must each work where are in our own ways.  Sometimes we may find it easier to move out of our immediate surroundings to establish our new communities upon fresh foundations - being in the world, but not of the world.  But as often as we can, we should try to improve our societies from the inside, though by example rather than by preaching.  I will offer all that I can, my words and thoughts and those I have gleaned from others.  I have delved as deeply as I could, ... sometimes suffering, and sometimes proud of what I have uncovered ... and there is more yet to learn.

       It is my project to attempt to unify the spiritual traditions of humanity.  I am not the first.  The insight that all religions spring from the same source is thousands of years old, perhaps as ancient as the oldest tradition now extant, but until recently most attempts to unify them dealt mainly within the limitations of their exoteric ( i.e., outward and public) teachings and knew only a small portion of the spiritual spectrum.  We have waited for an age in which it is possible to gather representatives of all the traditions at once, and seeing them together, to ask the right questions.  Each of them has survived because it offered us a unique perspective upon reality and human potential, and added something valuable to our spiritual treasury.  Sometimes I may have oversimplified some traditional viewpoints, but it has been my aim to create a superstructure capable of retaining the many great values they have given us, while penetrating to the points at which they meet.

       Yet let me admit at the very beginning that I too have found that I can only speak of that which merely points to the inward spiritual experience of the sacred and holy which we must each seek for ourselves.  There are many paths and methods available to those who would search for the ultimate reality, and most of them have been tried before and been clearly marked.  None of them are easy, nor do they allow for arrogance or subterfuge.  You must approach with humility and purity of heart ... and with patience.  I have personally tried several, with both successes and failures, and been fortunate enough to perceive the multi-faceted clarity at the center which encompasses all things - and has many names.  You must choose your own path and commit yourself to follow it, even through the desert of emptiness and beyond, and then return to solidarity with society and the world with all your individuality has to offer.  It is my humble hope that this work will offer you some perspective to carry you through the difficulties of faith by pointing out that which is of primary importance, and not merely cultural affectation.  And thereby, perhaps I may open the doors to fellowship among members of different faiths by removing the bars of misunderstanding and mistrust.  I wish you well.

Shalom aleichem.  Peace be upon you.


Monday, November 18, 2013

What are we here for?

       It is not enough to simply have a purpose.  Rather, one's purpose must be non-trivial -- one that makes a difference and inspires a desire, even a need to live.  It is not enough that God wishes us to live so as to love and praise Him. That would be merely ego-stroking -- unworthy of our own human souls and of the self-sufficiency of the loving and compassionate Deity.  We are created in the image and likeness of the infinite and all-powerful creative consciousness that summoned this universe into existence. Furthermore, we are the crown of that creation, given a purpose commensurate with our capacity to contemplate and recognize the wonder of the Deity and its creation.  She has given us the job of being stewards of this Earth, and the vision of Heaven.

       It is for us to seek to achieve this vision of Heaven within the range of our own consciousness and accomplishment -- to create Eden here and on all the other worlds that we may be able to reach, and to so transform ourselves in the process that we may find a harmony with any other intelligent species we may meet.  We are given the task, the purpose to bring life into the galaxy we call home, to cherish all of the life forms that we may save from the planet of our birth, and to safeguard the survival of any other kinds of life we may find.

       More, we are meant to encounter other intelligent species, including those here on Earth (the cetaceans), and learn to value and coexist with them, even communicate and share with them.  Such other sentient species also are created in the image and likeness of God, whom they know from their own perspective, and who cares for them just as He does for us.  Intelligent stewardship and organization, cultivation and distribution, even communion with the various forms of life which Deity has created the universe to express... THIS is what we are here for.  That is what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God.  That is our purpose, and it is non-trivial... it is profound and all-important, insofar as it continues the Deity's own work of creation.

       We are created from the elements and laws of the Big Bang, from the dust of exploded stars, from the detritus of once living creatures that evolved to shape the ball of matter we call Earth, and yet it was all done with a purpose... an intelligent plan. WE are the dust motes of consciousness, sparks or shards (depending on your perspective) of God's light seeking the experiences of adventure and community.  It is our individual task to learn to value the ideals of Truth, Freedom, Love and Wisdom, and the principles of justice, equality, fraternity and liberty.  Our experiences are God's, and enrich His/Her Being -- just as they give meaning to our own.