Loving Kindness Or . . .

“He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,”— in those who harbour such thoughts hatred will never cease.”
Buddha

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and unjust.”
Jesus

“A blow from the whip raises a welt, but a blow from the tongue will break bones. Many have fallen by the edge of the sword, but not as many as by the tounge.”
Ben Sira 28.17

“Love is kind”
1 Corinthians 13

 

Why are the wise in one accord in recommending that we yoke ourselves as individuals to the discipline of loving kindness? Why do the teachings of non-violence and compassion exist at the heart of every modern world religion?

If we choose not to follow loving kindness we yoke ourselves to its opposite: hateful meanness. Today, as we start year one of this new United States, I would like to take a moment to look at this issue. Accusing whole peoples of evil never ends well. It is hard, the way I see things, not to expect the most probable outcome of our existing political trends to lead to world war. I cannot help but wonder what the odds are of another twelve months of world peace, such as it is. Things are scary now, there are many active theaters of war but it can quickly get so much worse. I wonder where we will be in the first week of January 2019 and ask all my readers to join me in praying for peace everyday this year. However that may play out, it is worthwhile now, before the bombing starts, to talk as clearly as we can about what is true and what are lies concerning the human condition. We all know the names of history’s most recent mass murderers: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot. They each managed to destroy tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions of human beings – one at a time. There is an interesting truth in the kill numbers of modern weaponry. It is worth saying in the daylight that if nuclear weapons are used in our next international orgy of violence, history might very well add Trump to that short list. It is something I wish a few more people were considering and taking seriously. That, however, is something not a single person of goodwill can make happen. The best we can hope to do is make circumstances such that it is easier to choose love over hate. People are free to choose loving kindness or not. Some will choose to be the meanest, most hate-filled SOB they can. I believe that what the wise are suggesting by urging us to loving kindness is that this is not a good choice for the person involved, the people their lives will touch, or, ultimately, the world itself.

As a species we now understand, in some fairly impressive detail, just how the inter-generational abuse we are prone to plays out. The human brain is made to take very special note of those things that most threaten its existence. When the brain is traumatized those memories become a load-stone in the psyche for the rest of a person’s life. The emotional, sexual, and physical abuse of the young, for example, do you think the brain ever really forgets any detail of these events? The psychological professions have pretty good models for how the brain is traumatized, how memories of trauma are repressed, and what effects this whole system has on personalities. The psychiatric professions have pretty good models for how the chemical makeup of the memory mechanism malfunctions so that the victims of trauma re-experiencing the memories of the traumatic events as if they were happening again, here and now in real time. The repression happens because the pain is too overwhelming to live with, the repression fails to deal with the pain because the brain never really forgets.

There is a lot to say concerning war trauma which veterans suffer. There is a lot to say about how to turn a human being into a killer by studying the techniques of boot camp. These are important and there is great hope for such people in our newer understanding of trauma. Yet these are effects. War comes out of the heart but what put it there? To get to the causes we need to take a look at childhood trauma.

Children want to be good and please their parents. Self worth and dignity are learned from the respect others show us, particularly those closest to us. Children are trying to earn that respect, first from their family members and later from their society. Sometimes it goes horribly wrong. I would expect most of my readers have had the chance to see a mother who blows up at her child, thrashing them with her adult anger and adult tongue, if not fists, belts, and all the rest. Emotional child abuse is the act of forcing adult emotions into a child’s body where they act as foreign material since children are incapable of assimilating them. Doing so lets a person scar that child for life, just as they were. If instead of love you offer hate, if instead of kindness you offer cruelty, you create the conditions for that child’s future suicide or, if they are the type of person that turns anger outward, their future acts of violence and mayhem. So tricky! You can kill people with your tongue and never go to jail! This is what the world-soul is all about; this long, sad tale of our slavery to hatred and meanness. The most insidious part is that if a child is subject to such treatment long enough, they will come to believe they deserve it. In their heart of hearts they will believe they are evil. Children are not capable of the psychological objectivity required to recognize they are in the hands of a sick parent or guardian. In fortunate cases they avoid adolescent suicide and the adult they become will find the inner resources to confront the abuse and internalized abuser. This is the destroyer we have been discussing in these essays.

Why are the wise in one accord in recommending that we yoke ourselves as individuals to the discipline of loving kindness? The opposite option is to allow the hateful meanness that lives inside of you to rule your life. Then you will enjoy exploding in rage at young children, torturing them for the innocence and happiness they enjoy. There was a whole You Tube channel devoted to films of children suffering things like strapping them down and washing their mouths out with toxic chemicals. Become an explosive bitch and you will get to bask in the knowledge that everyone around you is terrified of you. The problem is your world will become smaller and smaller until the fear you are projecting bites back – and it will. Soon you are living only to control other people through your emotional blackmail, imposing your will whenever it really counts. Choose to feed the hate inside you instead of gentleness and kindness and you create a monstrous appetite that cannot be satisfied. The teachings say it is like trying to slack your thirst by drinking sea water. It gets worse and worse until you can never let a chance go by to target someone’s dignity and send your poison into the soft spot inside where each of us can doubt our self worth.

But why limit yourself to children? You can, if you are careful, find adults with unhealed wounds of their own to push around too. We see such people in our nursing homes after a life long devoted to hate. We see them in marriages when one person is terrified of the other. You can get a real kick out of frightening people, insulting them, making them feel like failures. It gives the abuser a false sense that they are in control of the whole world. We see them attacking low wage waiters and waitresses, clerks and managers at department stores, anyone who can’t hit back.

Here is the thing about this: these assholes and bullies are spiritual cowards. Don’t be fooled just because some of them like to hang out in religions. Don’t be fooled when they wash their violence in the lie that they only do what they do to others “for their own good.” The bully does not have the courage to face the pain within. They refuse to take on the human responsibility to try and control the beast that lurks in the human heart. Each of us must make that choice, day in and day out. The sum total of our choices is what makes up the world-soul.

Magical Christianity, an Oxymoron

“In the wider Middle East, it undermines and weakens America’s partners, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and others who have worked with the U.S. on issues relating to Iran, but also were hopeful that there would be a peace plan they could be part of. It weakens and undermines them.
The ones perhaps who are happiest, other than the Israeli government itself, which certainly is very happy, are Iran and its allies and Russia’s President Putin. We saw President Putin immediately take a victory lap, visiting Syria, Egypt, and Turkey all in one day, denouncing the Jerusalem decision, while also declaring victory in Syria and other places.”
The Long Term Global Consequences of Trump’s Jerusalem Move, PBS News

 

The failure of Homo Colossus as laid out in Limits to Growth is evident on every hand.

So what gives? Why is this blog, ostensibly interested in ecology and meditation, spending so much time on Christian teachings, to the point of quoting chapter and verse last week? It is because my studied opinion is that the fault line for the collapse of the Western Consensus runs through the Church. The 1970s saw more than just the publication of Limits to Growth, it also saw the publication of The Late Great Planet Earth and with that, the whole view of magical Christianity began to increase its influence on the culture of the United States.

Mindful Ecology leads each of us where it will. I believe ecology is, if I may put it this way, the current message of the Holy Spirit. That is, it is the communication to the human psyche, both individually and collectively, about what is the most urgent “revelation” for our day. The ecological crisis is a communication coming directly from the earth itself, what theology named the creation. It is a revelation of its creator-ways, or what we today call its molecular laws. There is a place for god-talk if it reminds us that what we are talking about, the earth ecological systems, are so much larger than we puny humans. There is a place for god-talk if it engenders respect.

The relocation of the United States embassy in Israel is an important move for the true believers. I worry that because the Christian message was abused by so many for so long, today many people who call themselves Christian wouldn’t know the actual, historic, mystical Christianity if it jumped up and bit them on the nose. The publishing industry phenomenon The Left Behind series is a good example of the popularity of the doomsday message, the Christian message gone haywire. “They can’t get enough of that doomsday stuff, they can’t get enough of it all,” sang Bowie in the The Next Day. Magical Christianity seeks a real world Armageddon in the Middle East, unable to differentiate wisdom teachings in symbols from rational discourse. The current earthquake changes around the geopolitical balance in the Middle East, the source of the neo-liberal system’s key oil supplies, are not happening in a vacuum. Geology is having a say as the largest oil field in on the planet, Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, quietly peaks behind the headlines. This is the truth that must not be spoken. Peak Oil was banished from our public discourse at just the time when the use of reason requires addressing it. We have been whistling past the graveyard since the 1970s made clear our position, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. It is not as if we never heard from Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Bush II, Clinton, and Obama or the report from our own armed forces insisting the United States has a serious oil dependency problem. But culturally we made different choices, and now there are consequences.

We are being offered religious packaging over the fundamental ecological problem. On this score, if I am reading the tea leaves right, the manipulation of public relations have only just begun. I think the Tillerson – Pence – Trump team have plans for the Middle East. When those plans are in full swing I expect they will be delivered to the public in a package of fundamentalist Christian faith. The ‘Crusades’ are already justified and meaningful for many folks within such traditional spiritual interpretations of the daily headlines.

In every religion throughout the long ages of the human story there has always been a tension between those who seek the mystical truth of spiritual things, and those who seek the magical power of spooky things. The mystic and the fundamentalist have never seen eye to eye, and from the looks of things, never will. As one of the mystical camp, a person who strongly believes in the value of contemplation and silent meditation, I offer a warning to those singing Onward Christian Soldiers. Things may not work out the way you expect them to, wrapped up in your flag and cross of self-righteousness.

If you were born with Christianity in your mother’s milk, you need to understand what that mythological constellation of symbols is really all about because it does concern you, whether you want it to or not. As it is said, Jesus would have come to earth to save you, and you alone. Christian mythology is the teaching of how the human conscience has an element of the shared collective or social world in it. In our most intimate inner sanctum we find the touch of other hands. Here we find the interests of other sentient beings equal to ours and thereby laying upon us an obligation. The obligation is to respect the life given even to “the least of these.”

What this means is that unscrupulous people can use this feature of the Christian mythology to manipulate others. The encounter with conscience holds a surprise for all people that were raised around the Christian stories. They are talking about, as pointed out last week, your body, your mind etc. Our culture has a practical understanding about this aspect of its symbol-rich inheritance and deals with it fairly well in Christian camps for adolescents and such. The problem comes when the wondrous vulnerability of love, so clearly on display in the Gospel story, is rejected. Then people have no alternatives but to go fishing around for things creature-reason cannot deliver. In the murky waters of a hunt for god-like power, the temptation is ever present to use the most powerful concept of all, namely god. But it is not right to use people, and god, so the Christian story teaches, includes personhood from all eternity. This means god is the ultimate person not to be used. It provokes righteous anger, as it must if any sort of justice and fairness is to exist.

What is revealed in this mythology is the very heart of the “one true god,” the inescapable ground of our being which is “closer to us than we are to ourselves.” The loving kindness human beings share with one another is real, because we really are free to choose otherwise. It is in that freedom that our love is made real. How could it be otherwise? Puppets cannot love one another. Love shows how that which created us, respects us as persons. It is astonishingly good news that love comes directly from the “maker of heaven and earth.” This is what is witnessed by the true man taken up into the true god. The man who is real and honest with himself, particularly his own experiences of emotion that so deeply move us in both our flesh and psyche equally, is the true man, the authentic human being. These wellsprings of consciousness that move us so powerfully and so deeply, they are the witness to us of the mystery of reality. The reality is that the grandeur of the cosmos with its endless galaxies, the starry nurseries, and the explosive creation of black-holes, all of it is also our nursery and the grandeur resides in our chests.

Everyone on this path of ecological awakening arrives at the silence in which conscience speaks. Here the stars, those ancient watchers who record everything that really happens, are not mute. Mystics, like scientists, have long understood that, after a fashion, the stars are on the inside.

Suffer the little child to come to the Christ. This is the innocent one within you that still lives inside the memory of your nervous system. It is the spark of personhood before and after the terrifying abuse children suffer at the hands of those few evil adults that seek them out. The inner child, flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone, is silent when at peace. They are at peace when the adult they have become understands and respects who they are and the truth of what they have experienced. An adult that accepts their creature status finds in Jesus their protector, the one who will plead your case before those who would falsely accuse you. It is he that would, as we say, go to the carpet for you, or in this case, the cross. The old Christmas hymn O Holy Night states that with Jesus “the soul felt its worth.” Finding yourself as the latest generation in a history of countless ancestors, finding yourself as one individual in a world full of people, and finding yourself a victim of evil abuse, this is all a bit overwhelming. Allowing the little child to come to the Christ is, symbolically, how you come to know that your life matters. Jesus would have come to earth to share the teaching of the kingdom and the loving father with you if you were the only human being ever to exist throughout all the ages, to compassionately suffer your pain with you so you would not be alone if yours was the only human pain this universe would ever know, and would come to carry your bruised and broken heart when love dies in the dark night even if your heart were the only one to ever be broken. There is an encounter here with a very real psychological, biological, and social truth about the human condition. Call it what you will, this encounter with the higher should result in a healthy adult pride, one capable of sustaining a person through the trials and challenges of seeing their dreams come true through hard work and a good dose of faith, hope, and love.

Basically real faith is able to quite the mind when it becomes too anxious, and it is able to quite the body when it becomes too fearful. The witness of martyrs self-control is the classical example of faith and it is exactly this. A deep enough belief in a good god becomes a pervasive enough conviction, that persons can withstand assaults far beyond what the ego as a lone individual could endure. We see the same thing in the self-emulation of the Tibetan Buddhist monks in a non-theist framework. Those who mess around with this Christian symbolism in their unscrupulous fundamentalism are messing around with this biological control system in people. Hence so many abused by religion end up with substance abuse issues. They need additional help to maintain the faith.

The mystical teaching is that the human race is one body after a fashion, that we share in the experiences of being one flesh. Any injury or insult to human dignity is a direct assault on us all. The teachings ask only how we treat the poor, in the end there is nothing else. The poor and outcasts we discarded in our selfishness hold the hidden gold we desperately need to find as a species. In our hearts of hearts we judge ourselves by how we treat “the least of these,” not how well we treat the most wealthy and powerful. Now, with the crashing of Homo Colossus, the rich are being made poor. It is both an opportunity and a danger. Whether the lack of loving kindness that touches you with the cold finger of poverty is economic, emotional, intellectual, sexual, or spiritual, they all leave torture’s scars on the body. Our tears do not sleep and then, in our hurt and anger, we become twisted and confused and in need of healing. That this healing does in fact come to individuals, untangling lies and providing the courage to speak the truth, sustains a rational hope that it can also come to our communities. We can swing the tenor of the collective conversation towards real-world issues if enough of us insist on it.

Contemplation is the birthright of everyone, the sweetest gift life has to offer, a love-making with the cosmos and a resting in the arms of creation’s gifts. It pierces the darkness of our lives and finds meaning in their events, often painful and sorrowful but real and lasting and true. Learning to be still in body and mind allows us to sit openly listening to our hearts. Our hearts know what we are. They know our worth.

Anjali

And how does that make you feel?

This is a question you will not often hear in public discourse. It is easier to proceed with the type of social relations we have chosen to reward when we pretend that the people involved are little more than automatons. We do recognize it hurts to be hungry, or scared, or shamed. There is no attempt to deny we are emotionally driven creatures, quite the opposite, in fact, when we take account of how we actually spend our money to influence one another. A person needs to hunt far and wide to find a rational argument laid out with evidence and a well reasoned conclusion among all the noise in the mass media. It is so much easier to use snarl words and poke the inner beast with a stick than it is to talk with the inner angel.

There is talk in the United States of rebuilding the long neglected infrastructure. It means more roads, bridges…. What future is this preparing for? Certainly not the one the ecologists are telling us to prepare for. In that future the role of carbon dioxide producing long distance travel is likely to be greatly constrained. Ask yourself if the solution to the problems of our built-out infrastructure are going to be best addressed by creating more of the same and repairing what exists? The number of cars on the road is expected to double by 2030, think its crowded out there on the highways today? Do you really think 20, 50, or 100 years from now, that the dollars spent on automobile infrastructure will still seem to have been the best use of our limited public funds?

Take a moment to check in with what you feel about these facts. First sit still and take a few deep breaths to calm the mind down from running in circles, and then slowly allow your own answer to come to you. Slowly bring to mind a picture or your own felt intuition of just what the world of the day after tomorrow is going to be like if, in fact, a huge national investment is made again into the ecologically destructive technology of fossil fuel transportation. Remember the tonnage of earth killing cement and pavement it will require, the pipelines, fracking. Remember the output of our tailpipes, how it lags for a decade or more. How does it make you feel?

Tell me, does it matter to you how other people feel?

Fear leaves the mind unable to reason well. It is very difficult to cultivate the angels of our better nature when our imaginations are fed on hellish images of anger, pain, suffering, injustice, abuse, killing, rape, torture, and war; in other words, all the types of images that seem to be ever increasing among our mass media communications and “entertainments.” Do we consider the impact all of this is having on the minds of the youngest among us? Do we care?

Normally these kinds of concerns are dismissed as naive, unrealistic for the world of a gray dawning Monday morning. I disagree. The integrity in a moment of consciousness is related to how integrated the whole person is at that moment. The most abstract thoughts continue to have emotion at their core, and the most extreme emotions constitute thoughts of sorts. What is reasoning to the mind, compassion is to our emotional make up.

Choosing a lifestyle of non-violence and low consumption comes directly from this insight. When you see the beating of the sacred hearts all around you, well you just need to see it for yourself: this is a sacred world. I greet you with anjali. I recognize the divine dwells within you: I recognize you have real subjectivity. In doing anjali we affirm that the universal spiritual teaching applies between us, that the Golden Rule between I and Thou applies. It is found in every major religion and philosophy, it is the gold standard of proper human relations. Why? Because it is our reality.

At the heart of my own consciousness is a profound mystery. I am grateful for the awareness I call my own, it is immeasurably precious to me. The logic of the Golden Rule is then impeccable. I will grant that you too have this same mystery at the core of your experience. This makes us kin. Mindful Ecology invites us to extended our anjali greeting to all the animals on earth as well, for they too bear the mark of subjectivity.

Consciousness is relationship. More specifically, consciousness is our relationship with the “things” it contains. These things, we should recall, are reflections in our awareness of real objects, however weird those objects might be in themselves. “Things” are the molecular world’s emergent states which happen to be happening at our human scale. Consciousness is consciousness of these things.

These things are always and everywhere in relationships among themselves. This is the reality of interdependence. This matters a great deal when we turn our attention to the different ways in which we treat those things we consider fully alive and those we do not. It is a slippery slope, this dividing dead and alive. The Cartesian split soon justifies splitting the more worthy, the more alive, from the lesser. Our Faustian investigation of machinery has lead us to suspect we ourselves might be little more than robots. We fear our body is more real than the mind, that we might be nothing but bodies, that mind is an accident, meaningless. It supports prejudice since some among us might look like they are alive and worthy of anjali, but really be little more than automatons. Throughout the western history of ideas animals, children, women and slaves have all had their integrity of consciousness questioned.

It is not hard to see that the Cartesian inheritance carries with it a pride in rational thought defined as being free of all emotion. What characterizes all those that had been placed in the category of not-quite-as-really-alive-as-ourselves? Animals, children, women, the uneducated and the slave were all understood as living lives lead by emotion instead of thought. Their crime was to allow feeling to rule their actions instead of cool reasoning. We have already looked at Descartes Error in this regard, how neuroscience contradicts any clear separation of thought and emotion. The Age of Reason was followed by the Age of the Romantics precisely because it seemed no reconciliation between thought and feeling would ever be found. That such a reconciliation has been found, and backed up by all the proof of modern neuroscience, is a really big deal. The Cartesian gulf begins to look like little more than a crude rationalization meant to justify cruelty. How is it, exactly, that one being with subjectivity could lay judgment on another being with subjectivity, such that the later is not extended an equivalent basic right to their existence which one unquestionably grants oneself?

For in the depth of feeling, are we not then most real?

It is not in the heights of thought that we come to sense the greatest depths of being. The experience is much more directly accessible than that. What we are is not the contents of our thoughts, it is our reaction to that which we contemplate.

Kindness is Powerful (1)

“Religions are basically inventions of the human mind… Compassion is fundamental to our nature. To achieve it we do not need to become religious, nor do we need any ideology. All that is necessary is for us to bring forth our basic human qualities.
“The real Avalokiteshvara (the greatest Bodhisattva) is compassion itself… an ideal quality which we must strive to cultivate to a limitless degree.
“My religion is kindness, a compassionate heart… this is both the root and the fulfillment of all spiritual paths… Let others concern themselves with God.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, quoted in Celestial Gallery, Romio Shrestha

 

Kindness is the acid that eats through all pretensions to elite entitlement. It recognizes the truth of interdependence requires we meet on a ground of equality. All beings want happiness and to avoid suffering, and all beings’ own life is precious to them. These things make us equal first and foremost; before any segmentation due to status, belief, race, gender, species or anything else which divides us. When we embrace another human being, literally or figuratively, in a fully honest extension of our heartfelt love and kindness, it is an act of celebrating who they are, as they are, without agenda and without conditions. It is an act of embracing them from this ground of being. It can be a powerful experience, perhaps the most powerful awareness is capable of. It can be as if all the energy of a panic attack due to the fear of death were being harnessed, but because there is no fear it’s surge is applied to this moment between us. Yet the stream of compassion is also stately and graceful, full of the patience of a mountain and of a strength on par with a slowly revolving galaxy.

These powerful moments are rare. They are rarely found where we work, sometimes in the home, occasionally between lovers but most often it seems they occur in emergency rooms and funeral homes, our modern cremation grounds.

It would be a mistake to overlook the powerful psychological truth within an act of heartfelt kindness. Before we can talk about what that is though, we will first need to clear away some baggage. As one might expect in a world of violence saturated entertainments we are not particularly well educated on understanding the ins and outs of compassion and kindness. Of late we have gone in for a more Spartan sensibility. I will argue that is sad, that by doing so people alienate themselves from the one thing that can bring healing and happiness to lives in the midst of our troubled times.

One objection to compassion being a well spring of our human nature comes from the school of popularized biology that insists selfish genes cannot make altruistic mammals. We had a chance to look at just how mammals need kindness earlier among the wire and cloth monkey mothers. I’m willing to bet the best interpretation of the evidence is that it is very possible for a social mammal to have honest loving kindness for another. Objections to compassion being actually possible for human beings also abound among the philosophers. Nietzsche famously allowed that compassion is a part of human character but claimed those who extol its virtues to be inspired by no more than the resentment of the poor and powerless against the wealthy and the strong. His acidic assessment of Christian hypocrisy remains a damning indictment but that does not of necessity remove the possibility or value of actual loving kindness.

On the flip side from those who object to compassion being real are those who are sure true compassion is easy for human beings. These are all the good-doers running around thinking they are helping others, all the while hurting people right and left. They think they know what is best for folks and off they go to do right by them. It is often hard for a person kept overly busy chasing virtues on a never ending escalator towards unobtainable purity to slow down long enough to ask themselves if what they are doing is really bringing benefit to other sentient beings. I submit to you that the world is full of more unskillful harmful poisoning than healing from the church dragons among us, that the full depths of compassion are not achieved as easily as the do-gooders in the world believe.

There are many reasons for that last. I want to draw our attention to one built into the very concept of spirituality, almost like a trap. I contend that real compassion is not possible for those who are sure they, or their cult, alone have the truth.

These people have not yet taken what Buddhists would consider the first step on the path of Dharma. Let me explain. The person who espouses a dogma is pretending to a certainty that is not available to the human mind. Dogmatic faith says things like, “I know this is the one true church” or “I know this is the one true god / message / standards / commandments,” or the real bait on the hook, “I know what happens after death (and can sell you fire insurance)!” They do not, in fact, know these things.

These people have not yet obtained intellectual honesty. For any number of psychological reasons, they have yet to find the courage to accept the reality of the cognitive, conceptual and emotional limits of biological earthly human life. Lacking self honesty, there is no further step that will aid them on the path of suchness, the reality of things. They have yet to enter the vehicle by which this path is traveled. Intellectual honesty forces us to admit that we do not know, that we cannot know with certainty. Therefore honesty requires admitting these unfalsifiable claims are in fact our best guess or perhaps more graciously, our most meaningful expression of myth and honored traditions. It is as if hope in the human breast can be home to two types of faith. Fanatic faith is toxic.

Most people who have walked this earth over the long millennia stretching back into deep time have not claimed dogmatic certainty. Monotheistic history is the history those in the West know best but it is not a characteristic sample. More commonly the symbol systems we today consider religious were woven into the daily context of transformation all people in the culture participated in. There was not the separation between church on Sunday and life on Monday we are familiar with. The Navajo and Tibetan people are good examples of such cultures in which a certain shamanistic sensibility guides each person along a path of beauty expressing itself through one’s daily activities. In such a milieu the arts of saying ‘Yes’ and ‘Thank You’ have a chance to refine the energy of compassion, push it and develop it and see just how far it will go. Such cultures say they are giving birth to spiritual warriors: men and women who are heroes due to their tamed minds as opposed to warmongering heroes who dominate the bodies of others.

The healing wisdom traditions of our inherited stories and myths encapsulate centuries of lessons about how and how not to live as social beings. These are one and all rooted in a humble attitude as their basic foundation, the ground from which they offer succor. The ground recognizes that we are not free to say what is real and not, but we are free to try and learn from it. The ground includes reverence before the wonder and preciousness of life as we experience it within the ever enveloping environment of the earth and sky. It is just this humble attitude that is lacking in the dogmatic individual.

The human being naturally wants to say ‘Thank You’ and ‘Yes’ to the experience of living. This is the fundamental response, the root of our psychology coming directly from the organic health of the bodymind – the thrill that it exists at all, a finite point in a sea of infinities.

In the dogmatic believer fear clouds this basic ground of goodness, obscuring it behind a fog of conditions; covenants and contractual obligations full of gods granting magical powers and virtues rewarded with wealth. Each time thoughts naturally turn to ‘Yes’ and ‘Thank You’ the fears instilled by their dogmatic faith get triggered and instead of finding comfort just resting in that awareness of the sacred, they suffer from the mind running circles around it, trying desperately and hopelessly to capture the essence of the experience in words; the holy books of all kinds. As every terrorist act is designed to shout: We value doctrine above persons! They are living upside-down.

The dogmatist has, as we say, a chip on their shoulder. They try to convince themselves and others that they have a mainline to the capital-T truth the rest of the world lacks. To the degree that they remain with their dogmatic insistence they are incapable of true compassion. Though they might act kind and always strive after virtue as it is defined by their creeds, at the end of the day this elitism makes a meeting of hearts between equals impossible.

The start of compassion is said to be the recognition that all sentient beings want the same thing you want, namely, happiness. It is also the recognition that all sentient beings are just like you in that they suffer. It is from this ground of equality that empathy is born. The elite might have pity, a real type of sorrow for all the poor smucks who just don’t get it. But this is not the fellow-feeling from which insight into the truth of interdependence can arise.

The spiritual elite add one other ingredient to their witch’s brew of dark curses, one which is having its day right now all across the globe; the dogmatist who just knows what is really going on is, in their own mind, unquestionably an elite human being and so naturally they are entitled to act in ways others are not. This sense of entitlement is what makes a discussion with such people such an unnerving experience. They deny your moral right to exist. Technically they fit the definition laid out in Aaron James’ Assholes; A Theory:

“In interpersonal or cooperative relations, the asshole:
1) allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically
2) does this out of an entrenched sense of entitlement; and
3) is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people.”

This sense of entitlement is haunting the house of the abused child, inspiring the bully in the pulpit, and echoing darkly through the heartless environments dripping wealth in our financial centers. This sense of entitlement is not just a problem with religious fundamentalists. It is a problem inherent in belief itself when it is allowed to claim logical closure.

What this means is that any system of thought that retains intellectual integrity will be an open system, one that recognizes the acquisition of knowledge is an ongoing activity. Its honest pursuit will provide an individual with powerful intuitions and strong emotional commitments but these will not be elevated to the level of dogma. Logically, open systems compliment compassion by granting that each individual has their own unique dream and integrity. Cultures that encourage open systems allow each generation of minds to explore their own experiences as being as true, real and legitimate as any that have gone before.

A closed system by contrast insists that all that is of real importance, or all that human beings really need to know, has already been revealed and what the existing generation needs to do is accept its authority and learn to live by its lights. Thought that retains intellectual integrity does not allow for such closed systems, ones in which circular logic seemingly succeeds in containing the one truth for all people in all times under all circumstances, like some sort of ideational perpetual motion machine. We insist intellectual integrity does not allow for closed systems not because we free thinking heretics are cussed. It is because a closed system necessarily depends on claims that cannot be falsified and thought stopping circular logic and in these things we recognize ways by which the human mind can be mislead, deceived and controlled. Karl Popper taught well the distinctions between open and closed systems of thought and their social and political implications in The Open Society and Its Enemies. It was also his work that first clearly teaches us how and why we need to ask if claims are falsifiable. But wait, there’s more. Closed systems suffer from another inherent weakness, for as Douglas Hofstadter was at pains to point out in his masterpiece Gödel, Escher, Bach: The Eternal Braid, it is a characteristic limit in conceptuality itself that any system complex enough to be interesting that is capable of proving some things true, cannot itself be proven true by any conceivable means from within that same system. Gödel’s Theorem is a coffin nail on all such fevered, Faustian dreams.

The dogmatic believer is threatened by openess. It is too exposed. It is too vulnerable. It is too raw and real. They fear space. Earlier I mentioned that the basic truth of our experience, ground-floor truth, is the thrill of existing at all. It is also true that all things in universe (used intentionally as a verb) are impermanent, which means space will take away what you have come to love. Love will still exist, it is as indestructible as the Queen of Space herself. Truth be told, what you find most precious in love is love itself, so what you find most precious is indestructible. That should comfort you but it is your choice. It becomes a question of what you value more: “the magic in a young girl’s heart” or your magic, yours alone.

Only one of these believers in magic, as far as I can tell, carries the balm of compassion wisely.

Kindness is Dangerous

“Kindness, we will argue in this book – not sexuality, not violence, not money – has become our forbidden pleasure. What is it about our times that makes kindness seem so dangerous?”
On Kindness, Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor

 

Kindness is dangerous, make no mistake about it. To be kind is to admit you care, exposing yourself to the surrounding bullies and giving them ammunition by which you can be hurt. This is why so many torture techniques are about raping the wife and killing the children to destroy the man. He cares and so his psyche breaks witnessing the cruelty.

The smallest act of kindness is revolutionary, an active protest against the insistence that this whole planet is full of people, animals and things meant only to be used to further our personal pursuit of wealth and power. With an act of kindness you dare to interfere with the Invisible Hand of the marketplace, threatening social chaos because you are not pursuing your own interests first and foremost. Of course we are a culture of smiles, but they do not reach our eyes. Too often the only purpose of our friendliness is to grease the wheels and make using one another a little easier.

“Goodbye cruel world.” Is the only way to escape this cruel world to die? Perhaps if we became a touch less cruel ourselves, the world would look a touch less cruel as well. Perhaps if in addition to selfish genes and ruthless competition we also filled our lives with thoughts of mutual aid and cooperation we would find our days proceeding much more smoothly, more filled with peace and contentment then they are right now.

When you feel caged in, hurt and vulnerable it is impossible to extend to another human being a warm, heartfelt acceptance. If inside you are feeling that you have been used and abused by others, you are not going to be able to greet other human beings in an atmosphere of trust. If you suspect every act of kindness has some ulterior motive, you are not going to be able to accept comfort from other people. Under these circumstances the interactions between human beings are ruled by fear which makes everyone wary, always on the lookout for the next insult, blame or threat. We see this everywhere; unhappy marriages, unhappy families, unhappy workplaces. That it is easier to sell someone something they don’t need if they are stressed out and full of fear is exactly why our media does all it can to keep images of carnage and pain, human cruelty and deception surrounding us at all times. The only kindness we accept is that of Hannibal inviting his guest to dinner.

In A Language Older Than Words Derrick Jensen writes, “I sometimes feel as though the tone of this book is not appropriate. I’m not certain the language is raw enough. My language is too fine, the sentences too lyrical, to describe things neither child nor adult should have to describe at all.”

By creating a culture devoted to material gain through individual competition we have also created a culture in which it is almost impossible to relax. Can you feel how, as a society, we are just getting wound up tighter and tighter? We all fear that if we let our guard down and expose our open and vulnerable side, others will take advantage of us. We fear they will use shared intimacies against us, fears that are often well grounded. While thankfully only a few people will experience torture, very few people will escape the devastating experience of having a trust betrayed by a friend or lover, by a boss or colleague, by a parent or sibling. We suffer when some intimate detail of our vulnerability, which we were courageous enough to share, is used against us. We suffer so deeply that we are quick to create a persona, a mask, that pretends we are not as hurt as we actually are. At first we use our mask as a band-aid but over time, as the scar tissue grows, it becomes character armor. We no longer even think about whether what we are about to say or do to another is cruel or not. We no longer notice when we are devastatingly cruel, carelessly flinging arrows and spears into the broken hearts around us.

We have become astonishingly cruel to one another as our capitalistic relations have become ever more brutal and exploitive. Coming out on top is the over-riding value; we must be first, best, brightest, and cutest or else the big machine of corporate power will chew us up and spit us out on the street.

The new management style that was all the rage recently well captures our social bankruptcy. In this breakthrough of business acumen the competition that dictates relationships between businesses was encouraged among the employees as well. The world of business is notorious for its dirty tricks and cold heartedness; ‘it’s just business’ we say, as we deny paying an insurance claim to the family with a child dying of cancer. The new management, following the same playbook, encourages backstabbing your peers by reporting their mistakes to their superiors secretly, negative office smear campaigns to destroy the careers of your competitors, and disingenuous reporting of other people’s achievements so yours stand out as unquestionably the best. Anyone recognize any of this? The logic is straight forward enough: the best businesses are those that out-compete all others, so the best employees are those that out-compete all others. Basically we have come to worship the CEO as asshole. In doing so we have come to prize the human being that can most quickly and thoroughly be an asshole to another human being as the highest achievement of personality and character.

We have become so fascinated by the gross power the abusive wield, that we have grown blind to the more subtle power found in acts of generosity and kindness.

True kindness, or the lack thereof, comes directly from how we see the world. There is not much more to it than that. The difficulty of the path in which we work on developing compassion is that we cannot change the way we see the world. Not directly anyway; the way we see things is the way we see things. We can fool ourselves for awhile, and others even longer, by trying to force ourselves into some regime of positive thinking or faith or groundless optimism but in the end, the world we see is the world we live in.

This is not to say there is no way to change the way we see the world, far from it. In fact it is more of a problem for the human mind that it is too easy to change the world we see into one we picture must be there. The contemplative arts are forms of training the mind to see what is really there beyond our fearful clinging and grasping. By calming the mind and letting it rest we discover a basic ground of goodness, we allow ourselves to become aware of the subtle delight that accompanies energetic, organic existence.

The world we have been taught to see by our immersion in the norms and mores of our dominate culture is one in which a dead, mechanical universe exists only to serve our needs. The non-human life we find on this planet is considered to be a kind of pseudo-life arising from mechanical chemical reactions. Non-human creatures only seem to have feelings, self consciousness and worth – much as women and children were considered to be for most of history. Only humans are really aware we are alive because we can talk to one another, although this condemns us to a lonely soliloquy. Around and around we go, stimulating one another in our echo chamber to ever greater feats of anger and destruction, stoking the fires of fear and justifying our injustices.

If what you actually see invokes respect you will naturally seek to treat it with the decorum it deserves. For the human being our most graceful acts and attire are reserved for those special occasions when matters of highest individual importance are unfolding; births, deaths, and marriages. We instinctively understand our value is the value of the unique individual. Extending this simple recognition to all sentient beings is an ethical ideal perhaps, but it is also little more than a simple recognition of the facts, namely, that before the forces of life and death all living things are equal. I am vulnerable to suffering, so must you be. At this level of being we are equal and this is simply the truth. Social and cognitive constructs do not reach here; in the silence there are no claims of revelation and salvation, status and domination. Here in our equality it is undeniably obvious that you and I, we have each been born of earth.

Recognize this and you recognize that no one has the right to tell you how to live or lord it over your innermost heart. No one else can give you the final answers to what this life is all about. Recognize this and you recognize the full implications of your choice to be cold-heartedly cruel or not.

Kindness is dangerous, make no mistake about it.