Archive for December, 2011

Progress Report #70

December 24, 2011

I’d hoped at this point to be finished with the outline for the final draft. But my two recent bouts with illness have ruined my plans. The book is divided into two sections (called “The Wrong Way” and “The High Way”), and I’ve just finished what I call the pre-final outline for the first half. I still need to go through the second half and bring it up to the same level, before boiling both halves down to their essence. Then I’ll have the outline that I’ll actually be working from for the final draft. Throughout this process, I’ve been learning my material well.

Two years ago, Judy and I were enlisted to serve for a week as caretakers for Santa Barbara Island, a one mile square desert island 40 miles off the coast of Southern California. We’ve been enlisted for another week, starting in just a few days. It’s a magical place, one that is completely isolated. It takes a three and a half hour boat ride just to get there. On a clear night, civilization still lights up the horizon, but otherwise there is no evidence for the existence of any other worlds save those of the island and the ocean. I’m taking my work with me. (There’s not a lot to do on the island!) I’ll be out of reach—truly out of reach—until the sixth.

Happy Holidays to everyone.

The Three Views of Existence Part 3

December 22, 2011

Our present-day understanding of religion is poor. When people discuss religion they are usually arguing about some doctrine they read in a book somewhere. Most of today’s religious institutions and organizations are led by people who have had no direct experience  of the spiritual, but who have ideas about what  it is. But you can’t get religion from a book or from speculative thought.

Here’s what real religion is: A person sets out on a path that takes him, or her, to the very edge of what can be understood with the thinking mind. At the point he can go no farther, he drops his ego and takes a leap into the unknown where he has a vision of the oneness of existence. To most people this sounds like some kind of Eastern religious trip. But I contend that Jesus took the same journey. If you read the Gospel of Thomas, one of the so-called Gnostic Gospels, it’s easy to recognize. One of the good things about the Gospel of Thomas is that it’s all sayings and aphorisms. There isn’t any mythology attached. It’s simply religious instruction. And religious instruction is mostly about how to manage safely the spiritual journey, which is incredibly dangerous.

Maybe it’s pointless to try to talk about this. To most ears, the journey I’m referring to sounds mythical rather than real. But that’s because of the time we live in, which is mundane and materialistic. In any case, for the moment, the door to the journey is closed. But it wasn’t so long ago that the door was open, and thousands, if not millions, were in pursuit. Even then, it was difficult to get people to understand. For many years, I was one of those who refused to hear of it. Futile or not, I want to try and make the point that in my mind I’ve been wanting to make for several months.

My contention is that real religion is simply the search for the truth about existence, about reality. There is one true religion, and it doesn’t have a name. It is simply the laws of existence—an existence that goes beyond physical reality. Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tse, and others are all examples of individuals who  made that journey, and then came back to tell the rest of us how to go there. In each case, only a handful of the original hearers had any real idea of what Buddha, Jesus, and Lao Tse were talking about. But they were impressed by the power of the speakers, who had been completely changed by their experiences. That’s where the big churches came from—from the mass of people who didn’t really understand what they were hearing, as well as from those who heard it second and third hand. In the first group I would include most of Jesus’ disciples; in the second, people like Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther, and so on. (I’m being critical of Christianity here, but I see Buddhism as having identical problems. One of the problems is to think that there is a “Buddhism” or a “Christianity.”)

It’s not easy to get people to understand what’s true. It’s easier to give them a jealous god who sits on his throne, sees all, and crushes his enemies. They can understand that much more easily than the idea that everything is god, that everything is mind. We all have, at the very least, an unconscious awareness of the spiritual roots of existence. That’s why the churches became so powerful. But as the churches have grown ever distant from the source, their doctrines have become more at odds with observable reality. A few centuries ago it got to be too much for the well-educated, and they began to question what they knew as religion, which was the creator god religion they’d inherited from Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther et al. Eventually they created science and philosophical materialism as a replacement. Today those two sides are duking it out, making headlines, trying to win converts. I can’t take either one of them seriously. There is that third way, which is quieter and more intelligent than either the creator god or philosophical materialism. It has the added advantage of being true. But, as I say, the door to understanding it directly is not open right now. That will change, however. Sometimes I feel that that’s all I live for—for that door to open again. When it does open, everything changes for everybody everywhere.

Old Age, Sickness, and Death

December 18, 2011

I’d been watching all the people around me fall ill from a cold. Judy, too. I was pleased that it hadn’t dug its nails into me—maybe even somewhat proud. “I must be doing something right.” But it’s got me now. All I can do is lie in bed and cough. I’d hoped to post the third part of “The Three Fundamental Views of Existence” by this point, but it’s been impossible to get any work done. So I’ve been lying in bed pondering the details of a third installment, which has been helpful in fleshing out the piece. Then it occurred to me that this is how it got started: two months ago, I was in bed with a stomach problem and thinking about existence. I don’t know how interesting that is, but I felt like saying something here.

More on God and Science

December 13, 2011

I started my series of posts on The Three Views of Existence (part 3 will be coming soon) by saying that the two dominant views, creator god and scientific/materialist, barely recognize the existence of the third, “pantheism.” But I could have said they don’t recognize it at all and I wouldn’t have been far off the mark. Tonight I read a review in the New York Times of a  book by an academic philosopher, Alvin Platingas, who believes in the creator god and who has made something of a career out of taking on the philosophical materialists. The third view is never mentioned. For the two dominant  views, it may as well not even exist. But I’m convinced that the third view is the true one, and I see its consistent omission as indicative of how far the modern world has strayed.

The Three Views of Existence (Part 2)

December 4, 2011

Wherever you are, you are one with the clouds and one with the sun and the stars that you see. You are still one with everything. That is more true than I can say, and more true that you can hear.

Shunryu Suzuki

Of the three fundamental views of existence that I laid out in part 1—creator god, scientific/materialist, and pantheist—I subscribe to the third. (I should add that “pantheism” is short hand for me. It’s a Western term, that is, from the world of Western philosophical speculation, and it undoubtedly has a lot of baggage attached to it that is not real.) I don’t see myself as having sought out this view. At one point in my life I was reading a lot of Taoism and Buddhism to try and stay afloat. I was doing a lot meditation, too, but, again, just to survive. In the midst of this I kept coming across the idea that everything is god, or mind. For a long time I assumed that this was merely a metaphor. Eventually I saw that the people advocating this idea really meant it. The difficult aspect is seeing the material plane as “merely” mind. If you cut me, I will bleed. If I kick a boulder with all my might, it will hurt like hell. The turning point for me came when someone I was reading, someone whose opinion I trusted and valued, stated that the material plane is an illusion, albeit a very thick one. That one statement tied a bunch of others together. The material plane has its own laws, but those laws are one with the spiritual background from which the material plane arises.

I don’t read a lot of science. I try, but I can’t hack the attitude that a lot of scientists adopt. They want to be the go-to guys, the great explainers. But science can never explain existence. It can only probe one layer of it—the material plane. I’ve read enough science to know that as scientists delve deeper into matter, they find that essentially it disappears. It’s a big mystery! But scientists insist that there is a rational order to reality, that through experimentation and research we can eventually understand everything—soberly. But that’s not what the sages say, and I take their word—the word of the real ones—over that of the scientists. The sages say that when you take the journey that leads to an understanding of what existence really is, it astonishes you. It blows your mind. If what you saw didn’t blow your mind, then you didn’t see fundamental reality. And fundamental reality is ineffable, that is, it cannot be put into words. You have to see it for yourself.

I’m not asserting here that I’ve had this vision. I haven’t. Just bits and pieces. So, in a sense, this is a statement of faith. But my journey isn’t over. I think I’m going to continue writing on this subject for some time. There will be a lot more parts. Right now I’m just trying to open up the subject. (There is more on this in The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, in the chapter called “Consciousness Explained”.)

In part 3, I’ll write about the differences between the pantheistic and creator god schools of thought, and how scientific materialism, especially Western science is, in a sense, the outcome of those differences.

By the way, I welcome any comments on this particular subject. Even contentious ones.

Christmas Conures

December 1, 2011
Christmas Conures

Big Bird and Parker and Winter Berries