Remaining Human: A Buddhist Perspective on Occupy Wall Street.

They tell you we are dreamers. The true dreamers are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are. We are not dreamers. We are awakening from a dream which is turning into a nightmare. We are not destroying anything. We are only witnessing how the system is destroying itself. We all know the classic scenes from cartoons. The cat reaches a precipice. But it goes on walking. Ignoring the fact that there is nothing beneath. Only when it looks down and notices it, it falls down. This is what we are doing here. We are telling the guys there on Wall Street – Hey, look down! 
We are awakening from a dream. When the Buddha was asked to describe his experience of awakening he said, “What I have awoken to is deep, quiet and excellent. But,” he continues, “People love their place. It’s hard for people who love, delight and revel in the fixed views and places of absolute certainty, to see interdependence.” –  Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Žižek’s rousing speech at Occupy Wall Street protest

Remaining Human: A Budhist Perspective on Occupy Wall Street is an inspiring article written by .

Stone’s message is an important one. As a student of the dharma, one learns to cultivate the middle way, and part of that is casting a discerning, questioning eye over one’s own views, intentions and actions. It is easy to let passions run amok and cloud vision and judgement. As the Buddha once said, “what you think you become”. Unchecked anger becomes violent action and is met with anger and violent resistance. We’ve seen in the past how the important issues which protesters seek to bring to light can get over-shadowed by unchecked passions and unskilful actions. As we all know, the media/news loves drama, and what could be more dramatic than a protest which erupts into violence. If this happens politicians will seize upon the opportunity provided by the unruly mob to shift attention from the important issues which people are trying to raise through their right to peaceful protest, and the core message will be lost in a media feeding frenzy of sensationalism and spin.

That is not to say that passions should be suppressed. More skilfully guided, and creatively employed. Occupy Wall Street, and other recent inspired expressions of the people’s voice (Cairo, Egypt. Where the people refused to pushed to violence. Patience, peace and unity won the day) have been victories for just such an approach. Keeping the right attitude is so important. Just as unchecked anger will spread and multiply, so too will a balanced and peaceful, skilful, determined and creative attitude. Through these means the people will begin to awaken from the dream to the reality of the situation. As Stone writes in his piece,  Enlightenment is not personal; it’s collective. There is the tale of the rampaging elephant who is subdued by the Buddha’s unwavering light of peace and compassion. This truth will spread. Through unity and solidarity these skilful means can have the most potent effect, and once the ball starts rolling along the right path, momentum will build and no obstruction will stop its progress.

Remaining Human: A Budhist Perspective on Occupy Wall Street

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The Psychedelic Experience

Recommended reading for all psychonauts, Timothy Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of The Dead.

Excerpt from the book’s introduction:-

The Tibetan Book of the Dead is ostensibly a book describing the experiences to be expected at the moment of death, during an intermediate phase lasting forty-nine (seven times seven) days, and during rebirth into another bodily frame. This however is merely the exoteric framework which the Tibetan Buddhists used to cloak their mystical teachings. The language and symbolism of death rituals of Bonism, the traditional pre-Buddhist Tibetan religion, were skillfully blended with Buddhist conceptions. The esoteric meaning, as it has been interpreted in this manual, is that it is death of the ego and rebirth that is described, not of the body. Lama Govinda indicates this clearly in his introduction when he writes: “It is a book for the living as well as the dying.” The book’s esoteric meaning is often concealed beneath many layers of symbolism. It was not intended for general reading. It was designed to be understood only by one who was to be initiated personally by a guru into the Buddhist mystical doctrines, into the pre-mortem-death- rebirth experience. These doctrines have been kept a closely guarded secret for many centuries, for fear that naive or careless application would do harm. In translating such an esoteric text, therefore, there are two steps: one, the rendering of the original text into English; and two, the practical interpretation of the text for its uses. In publishing this practical interpretation for use in the psychedelic drug session, we are in a sense breaking with the tradition of secrecy and thus contravening the teachings of the lama-gurus.

However, this step is justified on the grounds that the manual will not be understood by anyone who has not had a consciousness-expanding experience and that there are signs that the lamas themselves, after their recent diaspora, wish to make their teachings available to a wider public.

On Zen & The Ego

A Lotus Mandala

Being an “atheist”, can one also be spiritual? What does spiritual mean? Believing in Spirits? What is a spirit? A zest? A power force? An energy? Something undefinable that just is?

From my perspective there are two sides of us. There is the ego; the analytical voice inside your head, that is constantly chattering away, trying to make sense of “things”. But what is a “thing”? A thing is a concept, an idea, a construct of the ego. In reality, there are no single things, but one single thing; everything. A single thing which is everything and everyone. A single energy which flows and manifests itself in various guises, but which is essentially, all one and the same.

The ego, the thinking mind tries to grasp this as a concept, but the limitations of language, measuring, defining, make it impossible to grasp or to possess with/by thoughts alone. Like a scientist in a lab inspecting something through a microscope we only see a tiny detail at any one time, the thinking mind, the ego, works in a linear way, in a micro sense rather than a macro. To experience the macro level of all things, you must stop thinking, ignore the ego and see it for what it is, simply another manifestation of the single energy. You must see it as another sound just like the rustling of the leaves or the birds singing. The point is to experience the energy that not only surrounds you, but is you. You are a part of it all. What you see is what you are.

I am no Zen master. If I were I would not be using words in this fashion to try to define the undefinable. The whole point of Zen, is to show one the limitations of thinking, language, measuring, analysing. How can you describe the macro in micro terms? You’d be here forever. The many manifestations of this single energy force are infinite; this leads to this leads to this leads to this, and so on, forever. Our egos are all specialists specialising in a particular field, a particular micro at any one time. Everything is simply a part, a component, a happening, of the single expanding mandala or fractal, and as we know, a fractal is an infinite complexity.

There is only the now. The Now is infinity. Trying to capture that with the finite mind/ego is futile. The past is merely a memory, the future an expectation. There has only ever been “now”.

I’m not saying that there is no place for the ego. The ego after all is as much a part of all this as anything else. You can’t have the macro without the micro, just as you can’t have white without black or cold without hot, smooth without rough, something without nothing, they are all sides to the same coin. They cannot exist separately without one-another. You can’t have a front without a back. What I am saying is that there is a time for the ego and a time for the non-ego. Also, it is good to see the ego for what it is, once you realise that you are not only your ego, but everything else, when you truly see this it comes as a great relief.

Alan Watts is the person I have to thank for putting what I felt at my core, a fundamental truth into words and “thoughts”. He really did have a talent for defining the undefinable. To me he speaks/spoke an ultimate logic.

I’ll leave you with some words from my personal guru and favourite entertainer, Alan Watts.

Saturn’s Hexagon

Above is a short clip from a documentary I saw on the planet Saturn, well the US version anyway.

Obviously Saturn’s most famous and predominant feature, its rings, are very fascinating. What they comprise of, pondering their possible origins (moon collisions!), how long they’ll last, etc., etc. All really interesting stuff, but the thing which most intrigued me in the documentary I saw the other night–so much so that I felt compelled to share it here–was a feature of the planet I hadn’t been aware of prior to watching the film.

In 1979 scientists, via Voyager, discovered a perfect, stationary hexagon the size of four Earths on Saturn’s north pole. Then in 2006 the Cassini-Huygens craft, using superior imaging technology, confirmed it was still there. It’s origins, what exactly the hexagon is, how it’s formed, remain somewhat of a mystery apparently. However, I’m sure I’m not going too far out on a limb by subscribing to one theory I’ve encountered; that it’s maybe got something to do with Saturn’s rotational forces around the axis, and how that effects/reacts with the planet’s storm/weather patterns with regards particular angles and velocities of jet streams. I’ve posted the video of the Oxford university experiment I’m referring to at the bottom of this post, along with the info pertaining to it. There are major gaps in the experimenters’ fledgling theory, like what produces the jet streams with the exact angular velocity required to create the astonishing effect? and why only the north pole? Has it also something to do with the convergence of magnetic fields at the polar region? Theoretical conundrums aside (well, included actually. The mystery of it all, the hidden workings behind it, is perhaps the main attraction), aesthetically speaking, the perfect, six-sided giant polygon of Saturn, and its miniature re-recreated counterpart in the lab experiment, are a treat for the eyes and the mind.

Physicists Ana Claudia Barbosa Aguiar and Peter Read of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom performed the experiment depicted in this video. Using a 30-liter cylinder of water placed on a slowly rotating table they created an artificial “jet stream” by employing a much smaller and much faster rotating ring inside the main cylinder. By introducing fluorescent dye into the artificial “jet stream” they discovered that stable eddies formed and became stronger over time eventually forming stable regular polygonal shapes with each eddy located at a vertex. Also, in varying the rate of rotation of the large cylinder with respect to the small ring, they discovered that the larger the relative difference in rotation rates the less sides the resulting polygon had.

The experimenters postulate that a similar process is occurring on Saturn where the cylinder would be analogous to Saturn’s rotation and the “jet stream” would be analogous to an actual jet stream with an angular velocity greater than that of the planet’s rotation. It is still unknown what exactly would generate such a jet stream and especially one at just the right angular velocity to produce a hexagon.

More on Psychopathy…

It is easy — terribly easy — to shake a man’s faith in himself. To take advantage of that to break a man’s spirit is devil’s work. – George Bernard Shaw

Most of us comprehend instinctively that there are shades of good and bad rather than absolute categories. We know in our hearts that there must be no such thing as a person who is 100% good, and so we assume that there is no such thing as a person who is 100% bad… However psychologically speaking there definitely are people who possess an intervening sense of constraint based on emotional attachments and other people who have no such sense. And to fail to understand this is to place people of conscience in the world in danger. – Martha Stout, The Sociopath Next Door 

Further to my original post on this topic (here). I just stumbled across this on youtube. In this short webcast Frank Ochberg explains what a psychopath is and why they do not get upset or excited about seeing the pain of others.

If you’re interested in delving even deeper into the world of psychopathy I also recommend I, Psychopath. From the documentary’s promotional blurb:-

…In this intriguing documentary, Sam Vaknin, a self-proclaimed psychopath, goes in search of a diagnosis. In a scientific first, he allows himself to undergo testing to find out if he was born without a conscience. He knows he’s narcissistic and cannot empathize with others. By his own admission, he’s pompous, grandiose, repulsive and contradictory, ruthless and devoid of scruples, capricious and unfathomable… but he believes, he’s not a bad person. What he is is indifferent…he couldn’t care less. Unless, of course, the topic is himself. Vaknin and his long-suffering but ever-loyal wife, Lidija, embark on a diagnostic road trip. But, it’s uncharted territory… deep into the mind and life of a psychopath. The 47-year-old convicted corporate criminal has agreed to take part in the pursuit of his own diagnosis… meeting the world’s experts in psychopathy in the hope that science will provide some answers for why he is like he is. These experts put Vaknin (and his wife) through a battery of rigorous psychological tests and neuro-scientific experiments. Vaknin is shocked at the results. Sam, his wife, the scientists, the film-makers – will they ever be quite the same again?

Do Psychopaths Dream of Power & Status?

The following documentaries are extremely interesting and worrying in their implications (to put it mildly). Both documentaries are centred around psychologist Robert D Hare’s recently devised checklist to accurately diagnose cases of psychopathy, and raise, in my opinion, some serious issues which need to be addressed if we are to make a better, fairer and safer world for future generations. But an ethical solution to some of the problems presented may not become available to us for some time to come, and even if/when the science /technology to resolve the problems without resorting to inhuman right-wing tactics becomes available to us, there may still be serious ethical considerations to weigh-up as to whether or not the technology should be employed.

This undoubtedly all sounds very melodramatic and exaggerated, but I think once you’ve delved even just a bit deeper into this topic beyond the commonly held view (or misconception), as I have, you’ll find that you agree with me, if not in whole, in part.

Experts say that as many as 1 in 100 people could be psychopaths. They are not only serial killers, that is only the extreme and a small minority of the whole, in reality they are all around us, functioning, for the most part, as law abiding citizens. But this does not mean they are harmless.

What defines a psychopath is the inability to relate – a total lack of empathic reasoning. This causes them to be extremely selfish and ruthless; they will hold no qualms over deceiving and/or manipulating to get what they want. Sometimes to get what they want they must inflict violence or kill. Whilst other times (remember, they possess no empathy or conscience) they simply crave the rush and sense of power dominating/abusing/killing a person will provide them.

Not all psychopaths feel they need to break the law to get what they want though. They are often, by nature, very cunning people, and resorting to such crude methods as killing to fulfil their selfish desires often is not necessary. As you’ll find out if you watch the documentaries, a lot of psychopaths get on extremely well in the ruthless, cut-throat world of business and commerce for example. And this world satisfies their craving for power and domination over others.

Quote from the Equinox documentary, Psyschopath:-

The notion of industrial psychopaths rising throught the ranks to become captains of industry could mean that the character traits are a positive business asset.

Power attracts the corruptible – Frank Herbert

So, we know what defines a psychopath, but what defines a human? Is empathy and a conscience vital qualities to being human? If so, can psychopaths really be classified as truly “human”? Or are they humans in disguise? Cold, unfeeling androids without a “soul”? If this is the case, then maybe the ethical conundrums I mentioned earlier don’t apply, but I feel very wairy of going down this route… we all know what happens when people are classed as “subhuman”.  The inspiration for Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was people PKD saw around him who he felt lacked these vital humanistic ingredients. Even the “Voight-Kampff” test used to identify the androids is reminiscent of a psychopathy evaluation, gauging emotional reaction to stimuli.

From the wiki article about the novel:-

The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic near future, where the Earth and its populations have been damaged greatly by Nuclear War during World War Terminus. Most types of animals are endangered or extinct due to extreme radiation poisoning from the war. To own an animal is a sign of status, but what is emphasized more is the empathic emotions humans experience towards an animal.

Deckard is faced with “retiring” six escaped Nexus-6 model androids, the latest and most advanced model. Because of this task, the novel explores the issue of what it is to be human. Unlike humans, the androids possess no empathic sense. In essence, Deckard probes the existence of defining qualities that separate humans from androids.

What definately isn’t a human is a corporation (Tyrell, “More Human than Human”!). Yet as explored in the second documentary, a Canadian film called The Corporation, these organisations must be considered, in the eyes of the law, as a person rather than an entity. Under this definition, reasons profiler Robert Hare, corporations can be categorized as psychopathic because they exhibit a personality disorder: that of single-mindedly pursuing their objectives without regard for the people in and around them.

In my opinion, these docos are explosive and should be seen by everyone. The Equinox documentary is an eye-opener for sure, and The Corporation is nothing short of a masterpiece in my opinion, winning the World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, 2004, along with a Special Jury Award at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) in 2003 and 2004. They have certainly changed and shaped my present view of the world in which we find ourselves (as well as my interpretation of PKD’s novel). I hope you can find the time to view them both, and I look forward to the debate these docos will hopefully initiate on the comments section.

If you want to research even more into this topic after watching the documentaries, I recommend the book Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths among Us by Robert D Hare, the psychologist who developed the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL) and Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R).

Hot Sauce Committee Part 2

In case you’ve been asleep (- Lisa, lol), the Beastie Boy’s new album, Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 is out now! And, of course, it’s off the hook. Check it: