Monday, November 24, 2008

Failures, Bail-outs, Globalization and where we go from here

Steve Clemons of the Washington Note opens a very important discussion today about globalization, off-shoring, bail-outs, and the responsibilities of corporations to the people bailing them out.


In a different realm, Citibank has been a leader in off-shoring, pushing more and more of its financial services support base overseas.

Now taxpayers are being asked to bail out these large firms which showed little interest in the economic health of the nation and which engaged in "winner-takes-all capitalism" where those at the top, like Robert Rubin, became mega-wealthy with little regard to the eroding conditions of America's middle class.

American interests and the economic interests of firms were said by many economists -- including Lawrence Summers, Robert Rubin and others -- not to be tied to each other.

Telecom and media CEO Leo Hindery, who served as senior economic policy advisor to the John Edwards for President campaign and then served on the economic advisory team to President-elect Obama, has been talking for a long time about getting the economic interests of major firms back in line with the interests of the American middle class and of America itself.


Steve asks...


Then, why isn't anyone asking the question of the CEOs of these firms about what their new social contract with America and working Americans should be after having their companies literally "saved" during this economic crisis? What if we see the funds from the bailouts go to increasing the rapidity of off-shoring to India, China, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia?

Will that be the payoff taxpayers are expecting? I don't think so -- but few are talking about it.


And then he suggests...

Any big loans or bail-out equity acquisitions should come with a fundamental new condition: U.S. job creation and penalties for off-shored positions.

That should be the price of dipping into the public coffers -- for all firms, whether financial or manufacturing.


Personally, in theory at least, I don't think we should be bailing these bastards out at all. They took risks, let them suffer the consequences of those risks. Their business model failed. Let them fail.

In the real world I have no interest in seeing the economy that is so closely tied in with these companies fall any further then it already is. But I don't think we should be bailing these companies out. We should be buying them, kicking the people that ran them into the ground to curb, and then figuring out where we go from here for the betterment of all the people in this country and not just to save a few elite butts.

But... in counter-point to Steve....

I’m going to have to take the other side of this issue. Democracy, capitalism, and nationalism have all three only been around a few hundred years (roughly 1600-1700’s) though the seeds of each go back further. Of the three I would say that Democracy has been a smashing success though it is still in the experimental stage and could use some tweaking (particularly here in the USA).

Capitalism has shown some real strengths (promoting innovation and real economic growth) but it has also shown a great deal of instability, a tendency towards promoting one of the worst of human vices… greed… and an inability to promote the welfare of all.

Nationalism has shown no discernable positive effects whatsoever and frankly has been an absolute disaster. Not that the feudalism which preceded it was any better.

We are once again in a time of change. Democracy is here to stay and is spreading. It will continue to spread as long as the USA does not impede it by propping up dictators and undermining democratic movements as we too often did during the Cold War and still do, in the name of stability, to a smaller degree today.

Capitalism needs some serious work. Perhaps finding a nice synthesis with socialism so that each offset the others weaknesses while allowing the strengths of each system to do their thang.

Nationalism is morphing into internationalism and this is a good thing. Nationalism is nothing more then an “us and them” mentality. It promotes nothing but an us and them mentality and is therefore incredibly harmful to all. Us… and them. Internally and externally. Arbitrary borderlines drawn through ethnic/linguistic groups are harmful. Arbitrary borderlines that tell a starving people that they have to stay on their hopeless side of the line rather than cross over into a more hopeful situation is not only harmful but it is just plain silly. It doesn’t work (see current immigration issue and the long history of human migration throughout the centuries).

I have no problem with off-shoring per se. And I say this as someone whose job is highly threatened by this latest economic downturn and as someone that works for a major name brand corporation that has been concentrating its efforts on international growth while engaging in lots of off-shore contracting.

The problem is in how globalization is being run. The problem is in not taking actions to level the playing field to promote the spread not only of good American jobs off-shore but also of the hard-earned (see history of labor in America) worker protections, benefits, and environmental protections as well. The problem is having the corporate masters being the only ones at the table when discussing and setting the rules of globalization and therefore having only their bottom line interests being promoted which produces an environment that is separating their class from the nations that produced them and, more importantly, the history of human development that produced them.

This corporate master class is beginning to resemble the feudal lord class that preceded nations. Lords held fiefs in different places under different Kings and played a “great game” amongst themselves of power and wealth accumulation.

Eventually a merchant, craft, and learned class developed along with a landed gentry that established a middle class with distinctly local rather than international interests. Thus began the shift of power from lord and sword to merchant and economy. In the process tying down the lords, establishing of citizen rights and the need for boundaries within which those rights were guaranteed (along with the establishment of stable economic rules of interest to this economic class). Power shifted from the sword to the coin and as time passed formerly feudal lords found their interests best served by merging with this economic class.

In globalization we see that process reversing as the winners of the inherently unequal capitalist game, exacerbated by abuses built into the system by the Bush administration in particular but not solely. The last few decades have seen this top economic class "game" the political system through the spread of money in order to see the rules of the economic game changed in order to accelerate their further enrichment.

Through the development of internationalism following World War II and the eventual breakdown of national barriers through globalization this top economic class has once begun to resemble a feudal class of lords of commerce with interests in many different nations and therefore no ties to any particular nation, individual King, Prime Minister, or President... or the middle and lower classes (now known as “consumers” rather than the antiquated term “serfs” or now almost equally antiquated term “citizens”) that they feed off of.

One possible solution would be to try and pin these feudal lords and their corporate fiefs back to the nations and peoples from which they sprang. I think this is a doomed strategy under the truism that “you can never go back again.” Human history, individually and collectively, always moves forward for good or ill. I also think this is the wrong approach because it is a form of protectionism which has been proven again and again to cause more problems then it solves. Protectionism like nationalism is an us and them mentality.

Us and them leads to greed. An “I got mine to hell with you” approach to life. A lack of compassion and in its worst forms de-humanization of whoever is unlucky enough to be “them” this time around (see "niggers, nips, krauts, gooks, sand-niggers, towel-heads, and wet-backs). This is one of the things those of us on the left despise most in the right-wing fringe (which is a fine example of us and them thinking all in itself).

Us is ok. Them is not. Us needs preserving. Them needs killing if they get in our way. And it doesn’t matter if “our way” is towards what we need or towards more than we need. It doesn’t matter if “our way” is taking away from their abundance or from their essential needs. Us and them overwhelms all other considerations and drowns out even the possibility of conversation about mutual needs, mutual wants, mutual assistance, and mutual cooperation towards common, potentially shared goals. In an us and them environment there are no common goals. There are my goals and my goals only. Such a mind set leads to war and much unnecessary death, dying, and suffering.

The spread of corporate interests across national borders can be a very good thing. The sharing of economic interests across national borders can be a very good thing. Economic interests like stability. Economic interests like security and prefer not to be disrupted in pursuit of their goals. I have no problem with off-shoring. But I have a big problem with the separation of corporate interests from any ties to the citizens of the lands in which they operate. International law, international rules, regulations, and standards need to cross national borders along with corporate economic interests. Corporations, like governments, need checks and balances. Corporations, like governments, need oversight. Neither governments or corporations are inherently evil things but they also cannot be left to their own devices without power and money leading the fallible humans that run them astray.

Likewise, natural resources need management that crosses national borders as well. Resources like water and air know no national boundaries. Other resources are found in abundance in one place but not in another but can be used and are plentiful enough to be used for the benefit of all.

Finally, humans everywhere are created equal, have certain inalienable rights, have basic subsistence needs that can be met given the still abundant resources of this world. There is no excuse and no defense for not meeting at bare minimum the basic subsistence needs of all humans for food, shelter, heat, health care, education and economic opportunity.

I would very happily see democracy spread, human respect, dignity, and rights spread, the best aspects of capitalism synthesize with the best aspects of socialism across the world, and nationalism go the way of feudalism.

Like Steve, I do not trust the people that ran this economy and these corporations into the ground to anything else with the bail-out money then what they have done with the billions and trillions that have already flowed through their hands. We the People should not be bailing out entities that have no ties to us and therefore no incentive to repay our generosity. We the People should buy those entities that wish to be saved through our generosity. We the People should then take action to find real solutions to an economic system that clearly is not working as structured. We can try to take the system back again to a time in which it worked well for Americans or we can try and take it forward to a time in which it works well for all.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

There is only Mind

Rene Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.”

From Part IV of “A Discourse on Method”:


“… as I then desired to give my attention solely to the search after truth… I ought to reject as absolutely false all opinions in regard to which I could suppose the least ground for doubt, in order to ascertain whether after that there remained aught in my belief that was wholly indubitable.

Accordingly, seeing that our senses sometimes deceive us, I was willing to suppose that there existed nothing really such as they presented to us; and because some men err in reasoning… I, convinced that I was as open to error as any other, rejected as false all the reasonings I had hitherto taken for demonstrations; and finally, when I considered that the very same thoughts (presentations) which we experience when awake may also be experienced when we are asleep, while there is at that time not one of them true, I supposed that all the objects (presentations) that had ever entered into my mind when awake, had in them no more truth than the illusions of my dreams.

But immediately upon this I observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, it was absolutely necessary that I, who thus thought, should be somewhat; and as I observed that this truth, I think, therefore I am (COGITO ERGO SUM), was so certain and of such evidence that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the sceptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search.”


I found Descartes rather ponderous and difficult to read but very interesting. Particularly Part IV in which he continues this process of knowing himself as existent. I am going to take this in a slightly different direction then he did but start at the same point.

All I really know for certain is me. I think. That thought exists. Therefore there is something which thinks that thought. I will call it “I” or “me.”

What else do I know for certain? Nothing. Descartes takes this next step and says he doubts. He then states that doubt is lesser than knowing therefore knowing is a more perfect thing then the imperfection of doubting. He, in thinking, doubts, therefore his combination of knowing (perfection) and doubting (imperfection) is less then perfect, therefore there must be something more perfect then he. He goes on to use this as the basis for his proof of the existence of God (absolute perfection).

My question today is… What of the world, the universe? Is it real? Does it exist? I do not know. I’m not sure I can know. But let’s follow this path and see where it leads.

I have already experienced doubt. In thinking the first thought, the fundamental principle that I exist because I think, what was my very next thought? “Is this true?” Is there a flaw in the logic? Is there a more fundamental truth underlying even this first principle? A review of the logical process concludes that it is correct. There is no flaw. I think, therefore I am. But I have no experienced doubt. So I know that doubt exists.

So what of the rest of what I perceive as reality? Does it exist? I perceive reality. I look down at my hand and perceive it. I call it “my hand” but is it me? It is a part of what I call “my body” but it is not me. It is my hand. I do not have any sense of existing in it. So where do I exist? My sense is that I exist behind my eyes. My eyes appear to be my primary receptors. My sense of touch and my hearing come in somewhere behind vision and my sense of smell lags behind. I do not perceive my self as existing between my ears nor do I perceive my self as existing behind my nose. And I certainly don’t perceive my self as existing spread out throughout my entire body that feels physical sensation.

My mind perceives itself as being I. Mind perceives itself as having a body. Interestingly, Mind does not perceive the brain as being I. The brain, like the heart, eyes, ears, hand, feet, etc are a part of the body in which Mind perceives I as residing.

Sitting here, Mind perceives a world in which its body sits. It perceives a house, a desk, chair, computer, window, a cedar tree outside the window, a field and a hill, clouds, wind, rain, animals, and other people. Do all these things exist? I don’t know. Mind perceives these things therefore I know that they exist as concepts within Mind. My fingertips touch the keyboard so I perceive that both fingertips and keyboard have existence but that perception is within Mind. Consequently it is entirely possible that all of existence is within Mind.

I perceive that there was a Mother. I perceive that there is a Father. I perceive that there are siblings, wife, child, grandchild, in-laws, colleagues, friends, acquaintances, and strangers. I perceive memory and therefore time. I perceive a memory of childhood and that this childhood was real and existent. But, this memory is fragmentary and dreamlike. There is a sense of things forgotten. There is also a sense of this thing called childhood as a driver and shaper of the perceptions of existence of this thing I call “now.”

This leads to two other pieces of knowledge. One direct, one circumstantial. The direct knowledge is that I know “now.” I do not know memory or previous time. I perceive it but I do not know it. I only know the present moment. I know I think. I know I exist because I think and I know that the present moment exists because it is the moment in which I think the thought. I do not know the moment that started me writing this morning. I perceive it as having been but it is past and I do not know it. As recent as it has been I cannot capture it and bring it into the current moment as certain knowledge. I know in this moment that I perceive a memory of that moment and that it is a recent moment but I do not know it as real. I only perceive a memory of it and that perception exists/occurs within Mind.

The circumstantial knowledge is fear. I know an emotional response called fear. I have a memory of a Mother. I have a perception of a memory of the death of this Mother. I have a concept of not ever being able to experience this Mother ever again and that concept is a difficult one that I cannot quite comprehend. I experience another piece of circumstantial knowledge… desire. This difficult concept of not being able to see/experience this Mother is driven by a desire to do just that. Mind tells me this is something that cannot be but unlike virtually all other concepts/perceptions Mind has experienced this one cannot quite be grasped and accepted as truth. But back to fear. I fear that I will forget her. Memory is fragmentary. Memory of childhood in which Mother was the primary feature of the universe that I experienced is mostly faded away into vague dreamlike memories. I fear that the perception of Mother is nothing more than this vague dreamlike stuff. And I know sadness. But I digress.

So there is a perception of time, place, people, history, As close as I am to my family I cannot truly know them in the manner that I know my self as existent. I perceive them. I believe these perceptions are real as I experience them but I do not know them for sure. I only know them as I perceive them. This is true of rocks and mountains, rivers, the sky, moon, weather, people, time, words, concepts, ideas, etc. I can only know what I call reality as Mind perceives it.

In the western tradition we talk of five sense of perception: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste. In Zen Buddhism Mind is added as a sixth sense perceiver. The Heart Sutra says:


No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind. No color, sound, smell, taste, touch, phenomena. No realm of sight, no realm of consciousness, No ignorance and no end to ignorance.


Normally in the west we do not think of the Mind as a sense organ. But when I thought, “I think, therefore I am,” there was no involvement of eye, ear, nose, tongue, or body. There was only Mind involved. Mind perceives concepts without assistance from the other five senses. At the same time however none of the five truly perceive anything without Mind. They are data collectors but Mind does the processing. Zen Buddhism posits that there are eighteen elements of experience.

sense object...... sense organ.... realm of consciousness
color................ eye................. awareness of color
sound............... ears............... awareness of sound
smell................ nose............... awareness of smell
taste................. tongue........... awareness of taste
touch................ body.............. awareness of touch
object of mind... mind.............. awareness of mental phenomena

If a tree falls in the woods and there is no ear to hear it then it does not make a sound. It makes sound waves but until a receptor of sound waves receives the waves there is no sound. Once the waves are received there is sound but there is no concept of “tree falling in woods” until Mind perceives sound and conceives of the notions of tree, standing, falling, ground, and perhaps additionally woods, direction, distance, potential of danger and whatever else. All of these exist only as mental phenomena. The sense of sound involves the ear but all the rest are mental formations.

And so it is with all of reality. There is only Mind. Let us concede for the moment that there really are other people, that there really is a world and a universe, time, genealogy, and history. They still only exist as Mind perceives them. If there are multiple people perceiving the same moment each perceives it according to the constructions of their own minds.

There is a wonderful story in 101 Zen Stories that I usually reference as a description of the problem of communication but it also is a perfect exhibition of how two people experience the exact same situation completely differently. It’s short. Take a moment to click here and read it.

Two men experience and describe the exact same sequence of events and have two completely different mental conceptions of it. This is the way it always is. This is an extreme example but no two people ever have the exact same mental perceptions of phenomena. It is usually only slightly different but it is always different. Even people that are very close to each other. I’ve had surprising moments when one of my siblings described a shared experience in family life in quite a different manner then I perceived it. Similarly, despite our common upbringing the differences in how we have been experiencing and handling the recent death of our Mother shows stark differences along side commonalities in our perception and processing of this shared experience.

So, even if reality really is real your perception of it and mine are different. Your reality and mine are different. My reality belongs to me and me only. Your reality belongs to you and you only. And a third person has yet a third mental formation of the reality we ostensibly share. Therefore there is no objective reality. There is no there out there. What we perceive as reality only exists in Mind.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Q&A with Master Huang Po

From The Zen Teaching of Huang Po:

Q: If 'there's never been a single thing', can we speak of phenomena as non-existent?
A: 'Non-existent' is just as wrong as its opposite. Bodhi means having no concept of existence or non-existence.

Q: What is the Buddha?
A: Your Mind is the Buddha. The Buddha is Mind. Mind and Buddha are indivisible. Therefore it is written: 'That which is Mind is the Buddha; if it is other than Mind, it is certainly other than Buddha.'

Q: If our own Mind is the Buddha, how did Bodhidharma transmit his doctrine when he came from India?
A: When he came from India, he transmitted only Mind-Buddha. He just pointed to the truth that the minds of all of you have from the very first been identical with the Buddha, and in no way separate from each other. That is why we call him our Patriarch. Whoever has an instant understanding of this truth suddenly transcends the whole hierarchy of saints and adepts belonging to any of the Three Vehicles. You have always been one with the Buddha, so do not pretend you can ATTAIN to this oneness by various practices. [John Blofeld's Note: We cannot BECOME what we have always been; we ca only become intuitively aware of our original state, previously hidden from us by the clouds of maya.]

Q: If that is so, what Dharma do all the Buddhas teach when they manifest themselves in the world?
A: When all the Buddhas manifest themselves in the world, they proclaim nothing but the One Mind. Thus, Gautama Buddha silently transmitted to Mahakasyapa the doctrine that the One Mind, which is the substance of all things, is co-extensive with the Void and fills the entire world of phenomena. This is called the Law of All the Buddhas. Discuss it as you may, how can you even hope to approach the truth through words? Nor can it be perceived either subjectively or objectively. So full understanding can come to you only through an inexpressible mystery. The approach to it is called the Gateway of the Stillness beyond all Activity. If you wish to understand, know that a sudden comprehension comes when the mind has been purged of all the clutter of conceptual and discriminatory thought-activity. Those who seek the truth by means of intellect and learning only get further and further away from it. Not till your thoughts cease all their branching here and there, not till you abandon al thoughts of seeking for something, not till your mind is motionless as wood or stone, will you be on the right road to the Gate. [Blofeld's Note: These word recall the admonition of so many mystics - Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Sufi - who have committed their experience to words. What Huang Po calls the total abandonment of HSIN - mind, thought, perceptions, concepts and the rest - implies the utter surrender of self insisted on by Sufi and Christian mystics, Indeed, in paragraph 28 he used the very words: 'LET THE SELF PERISH UTTERLY'> Such striking unanimity of expression by mystics widely separated in time and space can hardly be attributed to coincidence. No several persons entirely unacquainted with one another could produce such closely similar accounts of purely imaginary journeys. Hence one is led to suppose that what they describe is real. This seems to have been Aldous Huxley's view when he compiled that valuable work The Perennial Philosophy.]

Q: At this very moment, all sorts of erroneous thoughts are constantly flowing through our minds. How can you speak of our having none?
A: Error has no substance; it is entirely the product of your own thinking. If you know that Mind is the Buddha and that Mind is fundamentally without error, whenever thoughts arise, you will be fully convinced that THEY are responsible for errors. If you could prevent all conceptual movements of thought and still your thinking-processes, naturally there would be no error left in you. Therefore is it said: 'When thoughts arise, then do all things arise. When thoughts vanish, then do all things vanish.'

Q: At this moment, while erroneous thoughts are arising in my mind, where is the Buddha? [Blofeld's Note: Is the One Mind then no longer present in me?]
A: At this moment you are conscious of those erroneous thoughts. Well, your consciousness is the Buddha! Perhaps you can understand that, were you but free of these delusory mental processes, there would then be no 'Buddha'. Why so? Because when you allow a movement of your mind to result in a concept of the Buddha, you are bringing into existence an objective being capable of being Enlightened. Similarly, any concept of sentient beings in need of deliverance CREATES such beings as objects of your thoughts. All intellectual processes and movements of thought result from your concepts. [Blofeld's Note: Which bring the corresponding thought objects into existence.] If you were to refrain from conceptualizing altogether, where could the Buddha continue to exist? You are in the same predicament as Manjusri who, as soon as he permitted himself to conceive of the Buddha as an objective entity, was dwarfed and hemmed in on all sides by those two iron mountains.

Q: At the moment of Enlightenment, where is the Buddha?
A: Whence does your question proceed? Whence does your consciousness arise? When speech is silenced, all movements stilled, every sight and sound vanished - THEN is the Buddha's work of deliverance truly going forward! Then, where will you seek the Buddha? You cannot place a head upon your head, or lips upon your lips; rather, you should just refrain from every kind of dualistic distinction. [Blofeld's Note: Since we are the Buddha, to seek him elsewhere is to place a head upon our head.][My note: to seek the Buddha elsewhere is to ATTEMPT to place a head upon our head.] Hills are hills. Water is water. Monks are monks. Laymen are laymen. But these mountains, these rivers, the whole world itself, together with sun, moon and stars - not one of them exists outside your minds! The vast chiliocosm exists only within you, so where else can the various categories of phenomena possibly be found? Outside Mind, there is nothing. The green hills which everywhere meet your gaze and that void sky that you see glistening above the earth - not a hairsbreadth of any of them exists outside the concepts you have formed for yourself! So it is that every single sight and sound is but the Buddha's Eye of Wisdom. [Blofeld's Note: The Buddha's Eye of Wisdom commonly means the eye with which he perceives the true unity of all things. Huang Po, however, does not say 'perceived BY the Eye', but uses the phrase 'is the Eye', thereby identifying see-er and seen.]

Phenomena do not arise independently but rely upon environment. [Blofeld's Note: I.e. the mental environment created by us.] And it is their appearing as objects which necessitates all sorts of individualized knowledge. You may talk the whole day through, yet what has been said? You may listen from dawn till dusk, yet what will you have heard? Thus, though Gautama Buddha preached for forty-nine years, in truth no word was spoken. [Blofeld's Note: Words belong to the realm of flux and illusion. The truth is beyond words, a silent and profound experience. The Buddha spoke of relative means. Viewed absolutely, no word was spoken.]

Monday, November 10, 2008

Greed


People are starving.
The rich gobble taxes,
that's why people are starving.

People rebel.
The rich oppress them,
that's why people rebel.

People hold life cheap.
The rich make it too costly,
that's why people hold it cheap.

But those who don't live for the sake of living
are worth more than the wealth-seekers.


Tao Te Ching #75 - Ursula K. LeGuin's rendition


LeGuin's commentary:
How many hundreds of years ago was this book written? And yet this chapter must be written in the present tense.

Not much more to be said than that.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Choices have consequences

Choices are not necessarily good or bad. Consequences are not necessarily good or bad either. But it is a truth of physics that actions have reactions. It is a truth of philosophy that choices have consequences.

A man made a choice to get involved in public service.

The people of his state made a choice between him and somebody else on who would best represent them in the US Senate.

They did this based on what he said about himself and his beliefs knowing that these would guide him in the subsequent decisions he would have to make in the Senate.

Sometime later Vice President Al Gore made the decision to choose this man, Sen. Joe Lieberman, as his running mate and Vice Presidential candidate. He made this choice based on various factors but the main one was that this man would help other people chose him for President. For other reasons that choice didn't work out so well and we and the rest of the world have all suffered the consequences ever since.

Joe Lieberman was known to be a man of integrity. He had strong beliefs, based his choices on those beliefs, and stuck by those beliefs no matter the consequences.

Joe Lieberman made a decision to support the Bush War in Iraq. I strongly disagree with his choice but respect his right to make it and respect his right to stick by that choice... as blatantly obviously wrong as that choice has proven to be.

The beauty of our democratic system is that we get to review the choices we make for representatives on a regular basis and change them if we decide they were wrong or a better choice is available.

The members of the Democratic Party in the state of Connecticut had the opportunity to review their previous choice of Joe Lieberman as their Senator and they rejected him. Primarily, but not solely, on his staunch support for the Bush War. Unfortunately however, Joe Lieberman got two chances that year and the people of the entire state of Connecticut overrode the decision of the Democrats by electing Joe Lieberman as an independent candidate to the US Senate.

Joe Lieberman was not happy with the decision of Connecticut Democrats but he made the decision to stick with the party and continued to caucus with the Democratic Party in the US Senate.

But he also decided to stick, quite obstinately, with his support for the Bush War in Iraq and various other Bush-Republican positions that Democrats strongly opposed.

The consequence of opposing the Democratic position so often on such integral issues and doing so in a very public manner is that many, many Democrats decided to oppose him equally as strongly. However, due to practical political situations, other Democrats decided to stand by him saying, "He's with us on everything except the war." This was not completely true but that was the position they decided to take and they stuck to it. Part of their decision was to allow him to retain his seniority within the Democratic Caucus and prominent Committee Chairmanships that came with it.

Joe Lieberman then decided to support his friend and colleague, John McCain of the Republican Party, against his former parties candidate, Senator Barack Obama.

Joe Lieberman then decided to actively, very actively, campaign on behalf of Republican John McCain against Democrat Barack Obama. Further, he decided to act as an attack dog (a role he had previously played while still a full member of the Democratic Party in an intra-party battle against Gov. Howard Dean) for the Republicans against Obama and engaged with very public, very strong, smear filled attacks against the Democratic candidate and the Democratic party.

Joe Lieberman then decided to take it even further and campaign for other Republicans, including Republican Senators Norm Coleman and Susan Collins, against the Democratic Party candidates. In other words, he decided to actively work against the interests of the party caucus he had previously decided to join and which had previously decided to reward him by maintaining him as a member in good standing with seniority.

The election is over and now new decisions need to be made. Decisions and choices that have consequences just like all the previous decisions had consequences.

I would suggest we take a clear view of the current situation and the choices that need to be made.

The Democratic Caucus in the Senate has grown and as they approach a new Congress they must decide on leadership positions and the general pecking order within their caucus.

Joe Lieberman as an independent will have a choice whether to ask to be allowed to caucus with the Democrats again or whether he would prefer to caucus with his friends in the Republican caucus.

The members in good standing of whichever party he chooses then has a choice as to whether to accept or reject his request to be a member.

Joe Lieberman has, by his actions, lost his previous good standing within the Democratic Caucus. One cannot work at complete cross-purposes to the group one is a member of and retain good standing. His actions are the antithesis of good standing.

The logical process in the Senate Democratic Caucus organizational meeting would be to have current Democratic Senators aligned according to seniority followed by the incoming freshmen Democratic Senators. Assuming Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders requests once again to caucus with the Democratic caucus, a decision would be made as to where he fits in. Odds are that as Bernie Sanders has acted with complete good faith with his Democratic colleagues and maintained a good standing with the caucus he has chosen to be a member of that he would be fitted into the seniority pecking order as if he were a full fledged Democrat.

Should Joe Lieberman make a similar choice to request to caucus with the Democratic Party then his request could be accepted or rejected. I would personally be tempted to reject him but would have no objections to accepting his humble request to caucus with Democrats.

However, Joe Lieberman made a choice to not work in good faith with the Democratic Caucus and consequently to divest himself of his previous good standing within that caucus. Should he request and should his request be accepted his placement within the pecking order would logically be as last man. This means no committee chairmanships, no sub-committee chairmanships, no seniority ranking. Incoming freshmen with a clean slate have a higher standing than a member in bad standing.

No chairmanships, no senior rankings for Joe. He chose to side with the Republicans. He chose to remove effectively himself from the caucus. It is a fait accompli. If he chooses to rejoin he starts at the very bottom.

If Joe doesn’t like that option then it is his choice, not the Democrats, to remain independent or to switch sides to the Republicans where it is then their choice where to place him in their pecking order.

One Democratic Senator expressed concern about a starting the new session with a "messy fight" in the Democratic caucus. There is no need for a “messy fight.” Joe effectively quit the caucus. Treat it that way. Allow him to rejoin if he wants but he rejoins with less seniority then the freshmen just elected.

This is all Joe’s doing. It’s Joe’s choice. It’s Joe’s mess.

Neither he nor the mess belong to Democrats. Don’t claim ownership of Joe or the mess and you won’t own it.

Almost every article that discusses the "Lieberman situation" talks about "revenge" and "retribution" against Lieberman. While, hell yes, I would personally like to take revenge against Lieberman for his actions, that is not what this is about. He made a choice. Choices have consequences. The consequence of his choice to work with Republicans against Democrats is loss of good standing in the Democratic Caucus. If he wants back in that’s fine but he has the responsibility to re-earn good standing. He starts without it due to his own choices. He made the mess. The onus is on him to clean it up.

Addendum to: To know without knowing...

In a previous post "To know without knowing" was a brief mention of the six sense organs and their objects stemming from this brief section of The Heart Sutra:

No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind.
No color, sound, smell, taste, touch, phenomena.



This morning I read a further exposition of this that may clarify it a little for folks not as familiar with this important piece of Zen thinking.

From The Zen Teaching of Huang Po:

The term unity refers to a homogeneous spiritual brilliance which separates into six harmoniously blended 'elements'. The homogeneous spiritual brilliance is the One Mind, while the six harmoniously blended 'elements' are the six sense organs. These six sense organs become severally united with objects that defile them - the eyes, with form, the ear with sound, the nose with smell, the tongue with taste, the body with touch, and the thinking mind with entities. Between these organs and their objects arise the six sensory perceptions, making eighteen sense-realms in all. If you understand that these eighteen realms have no objective existence, you will bind the six harmoniously blended 'elements' into a single spiritual brilliance - a single spiritual brilliance which is the One Mind. All students of the Way knows this, but cannot avoid forming concepts of 'a single spiritual brilliance' and 'the six harmoniously blended elements'. Accordingly they are cained to entities and fail to achieve a tacit understanding of original Mind.


John Blofeld adds a note at the end of this reading:
"This points to those people who are capable of understanding the doctrine intelligently but who have not yet entirely succeeded in throwing off the burden of concepts."


Chan Master Sheng-Yen explores this further in his book There is No Suffering - A Commentary on the Heart Sutra:

In the opening passage, the Heart Sutra first proclaims the emptiness of the five skandhas as a whole. In this passage it now goes on to state the emptiness of each skandha, analyzing them into the six sense faculties, the six sense objects, and the six sense consciousnesses, thus comprising the eighteen realms (dhatus)....

In addressing the interrelations of these three sets of phenomena, we divide physical forms into inner and outer. Inner form refers to the six sense faculties. Outer form refers to the six sense objects. The six sense consciousnesses arise through the interaction of sense faculties and sense objects. Seeing is one faculty, and shape, size and color make up its object. The same is true for the nose and smells, the tongue and taste, the body and physical sensation. These, the five ordinary senses, we clearly understand; the sixth faculty, the mind, is harder to understand.

First of all, the mind faculty
(mana) contains a physical and a mental component. The mind's sense objects are the mental phenomena people identify with, and include all kinds of thinking and tones of emotion, plus the symbols we use to understand and communicate these ideas and feelings. In fact, besides the five sense faculties and the five corresponding sense objects, all phenomena are sense objects of the mind. They range from enthusiasm to dread, desires to erroneous views, lethargy to distraction, verbal language to icons. One characteristic of these mental objects is that they always connect to the past or future, and are never in the present. Only sensation - a sense organ contacting a sense object - happens in the present. The consciousness aspect of each sense organ - that related to perception, interpretation, and response - is already past. And, as we stated earlier, the consciousness aspect of each sense organ is actually part of the sixth consciousness....


The rest of the chapter can be finished at the link above to google books (highly recommended).

My eye... sees... an object. The eye is one faculty. The object is another. Seeing is the action, or more accurately, the interaction between the eye and the thing the eye sees. The same with the nose and the things it smells. Five senses, five types of objects sense, five interactions between sense faculties and sense objects. Fifteen in total.

All of these however, are faculties of mind. I don't know about you but I generally think of mind and eye as being one. The visual sense seems to predominate and the mind is sensed as being located directly behind the eye. But this is not in fact the case. The eye is but one sense faculty. The mind is something separate. The eye does not think. The eye does not interpret. The eye does not differentiate. The eye does not name. The eye does not know it is an eye. All of tht belongs to mind.

The eye sees. That happens now, in the present. The eye sends data to the mind. After mind receives the data from the eye the process of interpreting the data begins. Color is named. Shape is differentiated and compared to previous experience and a determination is made. Square, rectangle, round, big, small, long, short, far, near. Friend, foe. Self, other. Safe, danger. Etc. This all happens after the fact in the discriminating mind.

So the mind is a sixth sense faculty. The data input from other sense faculties is the object and the process of discrimination is the action or interaction of the faculty with the object.

This is the process of knowing. Discriminate, compare and contrast, catagorize, name.

Non-discriminating mind simply receives the data as is. The process of discriminating, comparing and contrasting with previous experience, and catagorizing through the filter of pre-conceived notions of fear and desire is not activated. Reality is perceived exactly as it is rather than being attached and distorted by other not currently existing realities. It is what it is. Nothing added, nothing subtracted.

I once listened to an Al-Anon speaker tape in which a woman describes coming home all upset and discovering her husband had done or not done something. She then proceeds to get upset with him saying, "This is just like the time that you...." Which he interrupts part way through by saying, "Wrong husband." As it turned out she was taking out on him a long held resentment she had from the actions of her previous husband many years before.

The thinking process is a conditioned one. The conditions are that which has come before as stored through our limited and already onditioned understanding of these previous phenomena.

As Blofeld commented:
"This points to those people who are capable of understanding the doctrine intelligently but who have not yet entirely succeeded in throwing off the burden of concepts."

I know myself to be in the process of understanding this doctrine intellectually. I can compare and contrast it to experiences in my own past similar to this woman and say, "Yes, that explains it. Yes, I can see that in action." But to perceive without discriminating. To know without knowing... that may take awhile longer.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What Beautiful Day

President-elect Barack Obama.

Isn't that a nice sentence? It's a good day today. I don't think I've felt this good in a long time.



Spontaneous celebrations in the streets across the nation last night. When has that ever happened after an election in this country?



Something very special happened yesterday. President-elect Obama (I like writing that) was right in saying that one of the great things about America is that we can change and we have just proven that again.

It is truly a new day. A day filled with hope, opportunity, and change.



President-elect Obama was also right that it is time to end the ugly, ugly partisan division in this country.



As a proud and unabashed liberal Democrat I would love to simply ignore the Republicans and push forward with a purely liberal agenda. However, for the heatlh of the nation sane, respectable and responsible Republicans need to step up and join in to assist with honest discussion of our common problems and concerns.

The Time has come...



... and while I agree with President-elect Barack Obama that we need to end the division of red and blue America because there is only one United States of America... rigorous honesty demands that I state unequivocably where the thoroughly ugly practice of hate and fear based divide and attack has come from. It began with some of Nixon's operatives and was expanded under Reagan and the first Bush. But it was the ugly ultra-conservative fringe that hijacked the Republican Party that perfected the exploitation of hatred and fear in order to divide America, stoke hatred, spread dis-honesty and force their destructive agenda on the nation.

The American People Spoke yesterday to cap the message they sent in 2006 to reject completely the politics of division. None of us like it. Well, perhaps a fringe 1% or so gets off on it. But most Republicans don't like it any more then Democrats and Independents hate it with a passion.

It's ok when we disagree on issues. It's ok when we disagree on solutions. It's ok when we disagree on priorities. It's ok when we disagree regarding private vs. public, state vs. federal, individual vs. community, domestic vs. international.

Let's disagree. Let's talk about those disagreements. Quietly and calmly. Thoughtfully and most of all mutually respectfully. As Americans we can come together to tackle our common problems and craft solutions for the common good. Sometimes those solutions will follow a more conservative form and other times a more liberal form and sometimes a moderate combination of the two will work best.

But nothing will work when we allow ourselves to get caught up in the politics of division. The results of the last 8-12 years show us that truth all too clearly.

The economy, our broken health care system, our broken governmental institutions, two unending & unwinnable wars, fair vs. free trade, world starvation, terrorism and the desparation that feeds it, an energy crisis requiring a serious and sustained effort at converting to renewable and sustainable energy sources, an environmental problem growing day by day into a global climate crisis, signing statements and executive orders that need reviewing and reversing, world relations that need healing, and so much more.

The incoming administration has their work cut out for them. They need and deserve the responsible help of all Americans regardless of political belief. That doesn't mean capitulation. It mean honestly working together to solve our common problems. It does mean ending obstructionism and the poltics of personal destruction and partisan divide.

Today is a Beautiful day. Let us all work towards ensuring that every day in America from here on out is a beautiful day.



Peace,

Andrew

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

To know without knowing...


The Sick Mind

To know without knowing is best.
Not knowing without knowing it is sick.

To be sick of sickness
is the only cure.

The wise aren't sick.
They're sick of sickness,
so they're well.


- Tao Te Ching #71 - Ursula K. LeGuin's rendition

LeGuin's commentary:
"What you know without knowing you know it is the right kind of knowledge. Any other kind (conviction, theory, dogmatic belief, opinion) isn't the right kind, and if you don't know that, you'll lose the Way. This chapter is an example of exactly what Lao Tzu was talking about in the last one - obscure clarity, well-concealed jade."

One of the features of eastern thought of the Taoist and Zen Buddhist sort is the idea of the primacy of intuitive knowledge rather than the rationalist knowledge that has been the overarching primary feature of western thought since the enlightenment.

What you know without knowing is true knowledge.

This concept is very dangerous if not understood thoroughly. It is very easy to say "Ok, I'll go with my gut instinct. Whatever comes into my head first must be intuitive and therefore right so I won't question it."

Um... not so much. This is the Bush approach. Go with your gut and don't question things. We fool ourselves into thinking our very shallow level thoughts are instinct or intuition or... a message from God.

This is sickness.

Zen Buddhism features emptiness as of critical importance.

From The Heart Sutra:


O Shariputra, all dharmas are forms of emptiness, not born, not destroyed,
Not stained, not pure; without loss, without gain.
So in emptiness there is no form, no sensation, conception, discrimination, awareness.

No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind.
No color, sound, smell, taste, touch, phenomena.
No realm of sight, no realm of consciousness,
No ignorance and no end to ignorance.



Unless you know Zen well that is an incredibly hard passage to fathom. But there are few ways to approach it. Unstained... There is another Taoist phrase that speaks to the heart of the matter... "The Sage leaves no traces."

The Zen Mind is often defined as a still pool of water reflecting the moon. Our minds are usually like a pool with a thousand constant ripples running through it. The ripples are our constant stream of thoughts. The reflection of the moon is distorted by all the activity of thought. If the wind dies down and nothing disturbs the pool then the water settles to a flat and placid mirror that accurately reflects the moon.

Likewise, if our minds become settled, placid, quiet then the reality of our environment can be taken in without pre-conceived notions, prejudices, and concepts staining and distorting actual reality.

Unstained, undistorted input allows us to respond according to circumstances, in-tune, in harmony, thereby leaving no traces because nothing has been forced, no exertion made because no resistance exists to a natural action.

Normal experience for humans beings is interpretive:

No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind.
No color, sound, smell, taste, touch, phenomena.
No realm of sight, no realm of consciousness,
No ignorance and no end to ignorance.


The six sense openings perceive the six objects, interpret them for display and definition within the mind.

How do we not do that? It is a natural sequence for us or so it seems.

I am currently reading "The Zen Teaching of Huang Po" - On the Transmission of Mind Translated by John Blofield.

There is a short sermon translated thusly:


This pure Mind, the source of everything, shines forever and on all with the brilliance of its own perfection. But the people of the world do not awake to it, regarding only that which sees, hears, feels and knows as mind. Blinded by their own sight, hearing, feeling and knowing, they do not perceive the spiritual brilliance of the source-substance. If they would only eliminate all conceptual thought in a flash, that source-substance would manifest itself like the sun ascending through the void and illuminating the whole universe without hindrance or bounds. Therefore, if you students of the Way seek to progress through seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing, when you are deprived of your perceptions, your way to Mind will be cut off and you will find nowhere to enter. Only realize that, though real Mind is expressed in these perceptions, it neither forms part of them nor is separate from them. You should not start REASONING from these perceptions, nor allow them to give rise to conceptual thought; yet nor should you seek the One Mind apart from them or abandon them in your pursuit of the Dharma. Do not keep them nor abandon them nor dwell in them nor cleave to them. Above, below and around you, all is spontaneously existing, for there is nowhere which is outside the Buddha-Mind.


"But the people of the world do not awake to it, regarding only that which sees, hears, feels and knows as mind. Blinded by their own sight, hearing, feeling and knowing, they do not perceive the spiritual...."

"Regarding only that which..." This common level of mind which is so attached to our eyes in particular, our ears, and our tongue and to a lesser degree our nose and body. The conscious level of reasoning mind which is constantly interpreting its sensory input, that which we see and hear, and responding with sensory output... thought and speech.

Caught up in this shallow surface level of mind we are blocked off from and "... do not perceive the spiritual..." level of existence that is going on all along.

Quiet the mind, close the doors, see the reality of existence as it really is and not as we interpret it to be based on our experience, what our parents have taught us, what society says is right or wrong, how our teachers have told us reality is, how politicians say things are, how the blaring constant noise of media, television, radio, books, newspapers, the internet, signs scream it is.

Quiet the mind, close the doors. Remove the filter of conditioning and pre-conceived notions of what we ought to be seeing, perceiving... and simply take in reality just as it is.

See without seeing. Hear wth hearing. Know without knowing.

If we harmonize ourselves with existence in this way then our natural place in it will be clear. Our actions and reactions will be obvious and also in harmony with our environment. We will know without knowing. And leave no traces.... no scars... no dis-harmony's.

MAHA PRAJNA PARAMITA HEART SUTRA



MAHA PRAJNA PARAMITA HEART SUTRA

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, doing deep Prajna Paramita
Clearly saw emptiness of all the five Skandhas,
Thus completely relieving misfortune and pain.

O Shariputra, form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form.
Form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form. Sensation, conception, discrimination, awareness are likewise like this.

O Shariputra, all dharmas are forms of emptiness, not born, not destroyed,
Not stained, not pure; without loss, without gain.
So in emptiness there is no form, no sensation, conception, discrimination, awareness.

No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind.
No color, sound, smell, taste, touch, phenomena.
No realm of sight, no realm of consciousness,
No ignorance and no end to ignorance.
No old age and death and no end to old age and death.
No suffering, no cause of suffering. No extinguishing, no path,
No wisdom and no gain. No gain and thus
The Bodhisattva lives Prajna Paramita
With no hindrance in the mind, no hindrance, therefore no fear;
Far beyond deluded thoughts, this is Nirvana.

All past, present and future Buddhas live Prajna Paramita
And therefore attain anuttara-samyak-sambodhi.
Therefore know Prajna Paramita is the
Great mantra, the vivid mantra,
The best mantra, the unsurpassable mantra,
It completely clears all pain; this is the truth, not a lie.
So set forth the Prajna Paramita mantra,
Set forth this mantra and say:

Gate! Gate! Paragate! Parasamgate!
Bodhi Svaha! Prajna Heart Sutra!