To research, develop, and incarnate lifestyle, psychology, and knowledge that is socially and ecologically sustainable and harmonious... in other words, to be honest and kind...
May 2003.†Here are some of my reflections on my past and future means and ends. I write this for those who know me, but maybe it would be interesting for others as well. I write this as a brainstorm, not intended to be read as a finished document. Rather, it is a collage of images coming to this current mind on the eternal question what to do. Maybe itís too personal and I shouldnít put it on the website but it looks like Iím about to do it anyway.
There are many routes to personal success; likewise, there are many avenues for contributing to the maintenance and development of human civilization and planetary harmony. I have proposed in the past a model helpful to understanding life choices for different individuals. I will start here by retracing that model. Purely mechanical contributions to the maintenance and development of life can be of roughly equal effect regardless of the stage of life at which the work is done. For instance, consider weeding in the garden or chopping wood or cleaning the halls of a store. As long as the wood gets chopped, it doesnít matter who did it; and while one person might be several times more efficient than another person, almost anyone from 15 to 60 with practice can chop quite a lot of wood in an hour a day. On the other hand, at a higher level of abstraction (designing roads, allocating capital, teaching language), more experience tends to correlate to a disproportionately significant effect. An example here is someone who after 20 years of civil engineering, can coordinate a staff to design and build a bridge across a gorge. It just canít be done with grunt-power alone. At a different (and also high) level of abstraction is the nature of the human and planetary condition. Should a physical bridge in America be built at all, or is it wiser to allocate the resources to the development of a "figurative bridge" between America and other countries to reduce the severity of future conflicts (wars especially)?
As an aside, itís valuable to recognize that all tasks no matter how "purely physical" can have significant peacebuilding effects if done with that attitude. But for the purposes of this discussion, I will maintain the separation for now.
I have put some time into considering the needs and capabilities of modern civilization. Several apparently problematic trends emerged: 1) immature judgment on when to seek/offer guidance internally and externally 2) a positive feedback loop of institutions taking on lives of their own, positioning themselves as increasingly indespensible and receiving disproportionate allocations of resources 3) a lack of understanding physical and mental causality 4) an inability to experience personal peace and happiness regardless of circumstance 5) an inability to plan ahead individually and collectively 6) overuse and underuse of resources rather than appropriate use 7) outright destructive behavior at the physical and higher levels 8) widespread dishonesty 9) ignorance of historical trends individually and societally 10) rigid thought-patterns 11) an inability to conceptualize the apparently conflicting realities of individual and common existence 12) physically and mentally destructive eating behavior. (These can be subsumed under the categories of behavior, mental development, and discernment crossed with mental, verbal, and physical for curious students of Buddhist and western psychology.)
In consideration of these trends, I have sought for the past several years to understand their arising and cessation internally and externally (in my own mind and in human civilization). I found that in one sense these problems seem to be probably the most important ones, and also the simplest to identify ("everything I need to know I learned in Kindergarten") . Yet, I also found that most individuals no matter how educated tend to be unable to conceptualize them in a way which leads to the liberation of themselves or others. It is almost always the case that an individual will become so set on resolving one of these problems, that he ends up exacerbating the other problems for himself and others. This doesnít necessarily imply that their actions (mental, verbal, physical) are the wrong ones for them. Indeed, one of the routes to development of civilization and personality is through acting out ignorances to develop models for transcending those ignorances in the future. But taking a higher perspective, it may be valuable in human society to have some individuals who are able to see the inter-relationships among the destructive trends of civilization with sufficient clarity to work at a harmonized progress. I have found that throughout history, these trends have been analyzed internally and externally by many individuals; and that extensive analysis has been made of them in many different civilizations. Some of these individuals devoted themselves primarily to the investigation of the trends; some, to the resolution of the issues; some, to a combination.
On the one hand, I have found that youthful righteousness, overconfidence, courage, and aspiration can produce long-lasting positive effects, particularly within one context. On the other hand, I have also observed that the same youthful overconfidence can overlook some basic assumptions and tend to remedy one problem in one culture at the expense of other problems or other cultures. (I call this "youthful overconfidence" here, but in a larger sense, it is the most transcendent problem among all those mentioned, and in greater society this "youthful overconfidence" is the general state of affairs among most decision-makers worldwide.) I have found these trends both within my own mind and outside in the behavior of others. Experience alone apparently does not necessarily result in an agile mind able to see the interrelationships among these issues across cultures. In my case, however, I have devoted myself particularly to experiences designed to have this effect. I believe this development to be progressing well and still in progress. One of the disadvantages of developing this rather uncommon mental agility concerns the relationships between myself and others. In particular, I have developed keen insight into psychology, ideas, the physical world, and their relations, both in the abstract and in practical application, so vastly far beyond the workings of the ordinary mind, that almost no one is ever cable of understanding my thoughts. This presents a range of obstacles which may be part of my upcoming challenge: how to use these exceptional gifts.
To return to the main line of analysis, my working hypothesis I am leading up to is that the enlightened actions of a few individuals at critical points can have monumental effects for all of society. Whereas physical maintenance like the woodchopping mentioned earlier must happen every year, this enlightened action happens at occasional critical intervals. One other important point which I wonít go into here I shall mention nonetheless: the most enlightened actions tend to go unrecognized, or publicly decried. And also I will add that there are two types of this rare, enlightened action. In one type, a single activity is undertaken (like a critical choice between the bridges mentioned earlier) which invisibly affects the well-being of the mass of humanity in a gross way directly, and thereafter in a subtle way. In the other type, a new type of thought pattern is developed which, once shared, spreads exponentially through the human population to a saturation point (consciously or unconsciously); in this case, the population experiences subtle changes in their psyches (which will also indirectly bring about gross changes in physical and social alignment).
I consider myself to be one of the rare individuals who can have this type of broad and deep effect on society through my thought, speech, and action. Religious traditions typically have categories for enlightened action; one of the most concise is attributed to Jesus, (in my paraphrase) to "acknowledge what is true, and to be kind." Indeed, at times I find myself rather more at home with historical (and particular, religious) figures in history than with contemporary analysts and activists. At one point I recollect the thought arising, "Any text received from oral history then written has a likelihood of containing the most astute truths, though usually only contained as metaphor (typically up to about 100 AD but it varies across cultures). Anything originally written (as opposed to being received from oral tradition) is commentary; but anything post 500 AD is speculative conjecture." Another key idea which often comes to mind was attributed to Lao Tzu - (again, my paraphrase) "The truth which is spoken is not the eternal truth." Applying this, for instance, yields the insight that whatever combinations of concepts I am putting to paper here is projected onto a different dimension from applying it to my own mind internally or to my actions externally. Although most readers will likely already be thoroughly confused, let me add that another application of Lao Tzuís law yields the insight that all utterances, all writings, all actions are simply the footprints of the truth, and none of them is in itself an enlightened utterance. By tracing back in our own minds to the moment when we attempt to create enlightened utterances, then allowing them to transform us internally in the present, rather than seeking external transformation in the future, I think we can experience temporary enlightened being. Or then again maybe not. This analysis does not suggest that speech and action are entirely to be avoided; perhaps, rather, they must be simply contemplated and executed with mindfulness and contradiction, rather than ignorance and pseudo-certainty.
In this world, there are many individuals, communities, nations, striving for happiness, for harmony, sometimes effectively, sometimes ineffectively. In one sense, I see myself as being a transformative agent in catalyzing the increased effectiveness of these others. I think I already have had this role in the lives of many people. Practice is an important part of becoming a catalyst; as is reflection and solitude. I am learning and developing, experimenting and applying.
Some may think it is odd that I wish to give away my physical assets and divest myself of my "qualifications," instead requesting that people recognize my thoughts and actions without reference. Some wonder at my willingness to travel from place to place without developing a reputation for myself, and with such disinterest in forming eternal solid relationships. I suppose it is appropriate that they consider it odd; in this modern society, this is considered abnormal behavior. On the other hand, I have learned that there are significant drawbacks internally and externally to attachments of what is me and what is mine. These attachments, born of previous dreams and actions, become anchors which I cannot move beyond. It is probably not appropriate for every human to go beyond these boundaries of identity, possession, and security. But on the other hand, throughout human history and society, this role has existed: the shamans, the monks of East and West, priests, even (to some extent) early government officials in America who worked with little or no compensation. Sometimes these roles have apparently become corrupted, perhaps because the society outgrew the old roles. What model is appropriate today for contemporary American civilization at the beginning of this century and milennium? Some (including HH Dalai Lama and Thich Naht Han I believe) have pointed out that an American Buddhism does not exist; perhaps what I am talking about for myself is that American Buddhism. On the other hand, my experience with all religious traditions founded in historical societies is that due to the limits of what they knew about the world, they tended to be provincial - "Tibetan" or "Indian" or "Chinese." Will an American Buddhism ever exist? Another perspective is to recognize the message of the prophets of the Jewish Old Testament as seeing that the deliverance of God is for all people, not simply a subset of Chosen Ones. And in America, the modern melting pot, the first melting-pot empire in the age when the entire planet is somewhat known, perhaps the advent of an "American" Buddhism will never happen. What will emerge instead may be the budding of "an actual embodiment of a real Human Unity" as put on paper by The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, India - with the embracement of worldwide peoples as one people, worldwide nations as one body, worldwide religions as one religion, worldwide fate as one fate. Iím not so set on the answers; in fact, in a sense, I am not so stuck on answers and try to be as comfortable letting go of them as I am finding them. Someone else may find some answers, maybe the reincarnated brainchild of Ken Wilbur once he dies. Iíll play. Iíll create the City of Human Unity in my heart and carry it with me wherever I go; those who wish to create it externally, go ahead, Iíll help with a nod and a wink and a hammer and nails. William Blake: "I shall not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, until I have built Jerusalem in every green and pleasant land" - shall we build Jerusalem internally or externally or both? That question must re-arise every day, every moment, and as Thomas reportedly said to Jesus, letís not be too shy with "I donít know."
Some think it is odd that I am disinterested in dressing myself up physically or in how I speak, to "be listened to," to have security and apparent results. But the medium in this case is the message. I want to strengthen in people the courage to listen to the words, the feelings, the humanity of others, independent of who those others are; I want to strengthen in people their inclination to consider for themselves, to be willing to trust what they find, to learn from every experience, to recognize the joy in being and the joy in giving and receiving. In one sense, in fact, wandering about as an odd Socrates commenting on things seemingly beyond the rights of someone of my apparent caste gives me increased power, because those I interact with will feel increasingly able to trust themselves in my presence, even if it means rejecting me and/or what I say.
Some people pursue formal education at a total financial cost to society of 30,000-50,000 per year; I choose informal education which I think is more appropriate to me and has a cost of roughly 10,000 per year. Right now in many ways is still training time.
Perhaps I shall be an unsung hero. Perhaps I will be recognized like the Buddha and will not be able to escape all the crazy devotees. Devotees as I define them do not understand that mind and action are the creators of apparent miracles; they believe in miracles in and of themselves, and as such when a highly realized being performs astounding actions, they conceive it as something out-of-this-world. Both are fantasies of mine. Perhaps, then, I will find some happy medium in a life partner who strongly believes in me and through whom I will have the strength to reject the temptation to need that validation from others or from results.
What attributes might be recognized in the development of increasingly enlightened civilization at this time? In other words, what am I actually going to be doing in the next years of my life? Simply look at the list of apparently problematic trends and take a look at what you see; imagine the alternatives; look to see what those are today in the world. Find the dreamers, the builders, you might find me there. Walk the roads, you might find me there. If you are the type who has a vision, invite me over. I need a ticket to get there, food, and a place to rest; other than that, no traditional compensation required. We can start and the time is now.
You want an answer to where I am am and where I am going?
Iím just a Merry Prankster.
Nowhere at all. And a bit "Further."
See you there?