• “As the Human Mind Becomes More Enlightened … “


    {an Excerpt from ‘The Beauty and Nobility of Life’} “It seems to be a matter of principle among some conservatives to look at any forward-looking endeavor (whether a proposed bill in Congress, or simply a suggested action that might improve some problem or other), and to search for possible difficulties or defects that might result in part. This could be a very useful thing to do. But as soon as they find one, rather than suggesting ways to modify or improve the endeavor so as to make it more useful and effective, they choose instead to use what they have found as a justification to condemn the entire enterprise and try to defeat it, insisting that it is always better to do nothing at all and just leave the status quo alone. There is always good reason to carefully consider consequences and to not rush ahead carelessly and brazenly, but I see no evidence that the extremist refrain “do nothing, the market will take care of all our problems as long as we do nothing” has any logical, historical, or moral validity. “The American experiment is just that – an ongoing experiment. This experiment does not need uncritical, unquestioning, mindless ‘loyalty’. Rather, it demands our continuous efforts to advance our fundamental principles and improve the lives of all our citizens.”

  • What Really Makes America ‘Exceptional’?


    (excerpt from ‘The Beauty and Nobility of Life’): Americans feel a great deal of pride that our nation is so unique. But most Americans gravely misunderstand in what sense we are unique, and in what sense we are no different from any other nation or any other people. We are going to have to free ourselves of quite a few delusions before we can recognize and understand our true uniqueness, before we can begin to speak intelligently, honestly, and maturely about our so-called ‘exceptionalism”. As Jacob Needleman notes: What makes America special is not its people. What makes America special is its obligation. America was consciously designed specifically as a place where ideals like freedom and equality, justice and truth, could be pursued, where the quest for “the Good” would be encouraged.

    America was supposed to be a place where all human beings could gather together and this pursuit would be protected. This is what makes America special and unique. We are no different than any other people in any other time or any other country – but no other nation has ever had this obligation to the human spirit.

    The indisputable fact that we have often betrayed these ideals is not a reason to reject the ideals themselves, nor is it a reason to give up hope in the possibility of fulfilling these ideals in the future. This is why Frederick Douglass, after slamming the Americans of his time for their hypocrisy, said, “But I differ from those who charge this baseness on the framers of the Constitution of the United States. It is a slander upon their memory.” He did not want us ever to forget what we are or what we have done, but he also did not want us ever to forget what America can and must become.

  • Charleston. Another Mass Murder

    We have the ability to change this. We are not the helpless slaves of negativity. Change always begins with awareness, it begins with knowing what we are, it begins with knowing what is real. We have to stop denying. This is not a post-racist society, Muslims are not the only terrorists, and guns-and-easy-access-to-them is not a good thing.

  • Literalism


    We have to stop reducing the vast meaning and awesome power of symbolism and mythology to mere questions of literal fact or fiction. Myths reflect back to us and teach us about our deepest psychological and spiritual truths. Among contemporary people, myths tend to be dismissed, at a terrible psychological cost, as childish fantasies or the unscientific gropings of primitive minds. This is why followers of western religions have typically insisted that their scriptures are not myths at all, but must be taken as literally true. This, however, merely weakens the effectiveness and power of religions, rendering them spiritually useless, often rather foolish, as well as socially and politically dangerous, rather than instructive, helpful, and even ennobling.

  • The Inevitable Outcome?


    The sharp difference that we ascribe to secular matters and sacred matters could never make  sense to a Shaman. The gods and goddesses of Homer’s Greece were part of everyone’s daily life. In the Garden of Eden, God walked about and talked to the inhabitants. He spoke with Abraham and Moses, and later sent His son into the world.

    In these times and cultures, people believed they were immersed in a sacred world, they knew who and what they were, and most importantly they felt a direct participation in higher levels of existence that gave their lives purpose and value. But for the most part, writes Douglas Sloan, during the last three or four centuries “this participatory awareness of a meaningful world has dimmed almost to the point of extinction.”

    At the same time, something very positive has emerged in its place: the modern development and strengthening of individual selfhood. We experience the self’s relationship to the world in a very different way than our ancestors. We have a far greater sense of personal identity, separate from others and detached from nature. We demand and expect personal freedom and full opportunity for personal achievement.

    But modern individuals are no longer sustained by a living and sacred world. We find ourselves grounded instead in the ‘onlooker’ viewpoint of science in which we analyze nature from the outside and find ways to make her do our bidding. We have been phenomenally successful at this, and our intelligence and creativity continue to bear fruit every day. It is also true, however, that we endure the psychological consequences of holding to this position: alienation, fragmentation, loss of meaning. Nothing characterizes the modern world more completely than the loss of an intuitive understanding of transcendence, our lack of appreciation for levels of reality above our everyday affairs. By shutting the door on transcendence, we have cut off any light from that world that might have illuminated this one, leaving us in darkness, leaving us with nothing but a dead world where scientists are merely performing an autopsy.

    Must this be the inevitable outcome of the modern experiment in individualization? Is the apex of this endeavor merely the bleak realization that the individual is alone in a meaningless, violent and absurd universe? Or is it possible to remain a free and rational ‘self’, and still be connected to a living web of mutuality and authentic meaning?

  • DOMINION: Cruelty and Stupidity are Close Companions


    (Excerpt from The Beauty and Nobility of Life)

    Contrary to our long history of confusing the noble concept of ‘dominion’ with the vulgar concept of ‘domination’, the biblical tradition clearly maintains that God is concerned with all life on Earth, and human beings have an obligation to care for our planetary home and all the planet’s creatures. In Exodus, God determines that Moses is ready to fulfill his task when He sees that Moses is merciful toward animals. According to the prophet Hosea, God says “I will make a covenant on behalf of Israel with the wild beasts, the birds of the air, and the things that creep on the earth … so that all living creatures may lie down without fear.” (Hos 2:18). Proverbs states simply, “A righteous man cares for his beast.” (12:10) The Jewish physician and scholar, Moses Maimonides, would later say, “It should not be believed that all beings exist for the sake of the existence of man. On the contrary, all the other beings too have been intended for their own sakes and not for the sake of anything else.”

    The eastern religions of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism all urge compassion for animals in recognition of the Oneness of life. Ahimsa, the central ethical doctrine of these traditions, is the principle of not causing pain or harm to others. Buddha commanded his followers not to kill animals, for acts of violence toward living things, in order to get what we want, is a horrific cause of attachment and only binds us ever more tightly to our suffering. Buddhism seeks release from suffering.

    Mohammad taught his followers that “Whoever is merciful even to a sparrow, God will be merciful to him on the Day of Judgment.” He also said that “A good deed done to an animal is as meritorious as a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as an act of cruelty to a human being.”

    In Christianity, Pope John Paul II wrote that “Creation was given and entrusted to humankind as a duty”, i.e., not a personal plaything, and God says of all creation “It is good that you exist.” St. Francis understood well that “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”

    It is by no means just the voices of religion that keep trying to get this message through to us. The well-known atheist, Christopher Hitchens, wrote, “when I read of the possible annihilation of the elephant or the whale, or the pouring of oven cleaner or cosmetics into the eyes of live kittens, or the close confinement of pigs and calves in lightless pens, I feel myself confronted by human stupidity, which I recognize as an enemy.” Cruelty and stupidity, he correctly points out, are often close companions.

    Among scientists, Einstein spoke of “widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty,” and he warned that “any society which does not insist upon respect for all life must necessarily decay.” Charles Darwin thought that “The love for all living creatures [is] the most noble attribute of man.” The American inventor, Thomas Edison, believed that “Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.” Pythagoras knew that “as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other.” Rachel Carsen added, “It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know of wonder and humility.”

    In his book The Basis of Morality, Schopenhauer wrote that “The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.” Even earlier, Immanuel Kant became one of many thoughtful people who have always maintained that “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”

    “Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless,” said Albert Schweitzer, “is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.” This principle was perhaps stated most vividly in a quote that is often attributed to Theodor W. Adorno, though he never actually said it. It’s too bad. Whoever may have said it, it has a definite ring of truth. “Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.”

  • Islamophobia

    In our ever-shrinking world, where the word ‘community’ means that more and more cultural and religious diversity is right beside us, we really have no choice but to find out who our neighbors are. Otherwise, we just hide from the world. This sort of isolation could be achieved in the past, but no longer in this fantastically close-knit world. Militant exclusivity, particularly in its violent forms, may make headlines – but it does not make much sense.

    The heavy media coverage of violent activities by small groups of Islamic terrorists helps cement in the American imagination a stereotyped image of all Muslims as angry and dangerous conspirators, fixed on spreading hatred, destruction and murder. We often hear the claim that “Sure, I guess not all Muslims are terrorists, but how come the good ones never speak out? It seems as if they’re all willing to support terrorism, even if they don’t participate.”
    I recently typed in the phrase “Muslims Against Terrorism” on the YouTube site, and it brought up 5,470 videos.
    Then I went to the Google site and typed in the phrase “Muslims who speak out against Violence”, and it turned up 24,400,000 results.
    The only reason some people have never heard Muslims object to terror and violence is that they do not listen and they have not looked.
    Most Americans do not know very much about Islam, other than the sensationalism they hear about on the news, so it would be worthwhile to take a look at some of what the Qur’an actually says.
    For instance, does the Qur’an sanction forced conversions? In fact, all Islamic jurists, without exception, have held throughout history that any attempt at coercing a non-believer to accept the faith of Islam is a grievous sin. This quote from Chapter 2 could not be any clearer: “There is no compulsion in matters of religion.”
    The Quran does allow Muslims to fight against people who have attacked them or oppressed them (and by the way, the battles that are described in the Qur’an are not being fought against Christians or Jews: they are defensive wars against other Arabs who resented Muhammad because they did not want to give up their various idols and did not like the way his anti-idolatry preaching was annoying the pilgrims who came to Mecca each year and made them rich). So Muslims were allowed to fight back when attacked, but in Chapter 60 it says, “God does not forbid you to be kind and equitable to those who have neither fought against your faith nor driven you out of your homes. In fact, God loves the equitable.”
    And as far as Jews and Christians and other peoples are concerned, in Chapter 49 God says, “We have …made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come to know each other and to honor each other, not so that you should despise each other.”
    Does the Qur’an say “Kill them wherever you encounter them”? Yes, it does. But contrary to the wild imaginings of frightened westerners, and the lunatic fringe of Islamic terrorists, this verse is not condoning slaughter. It was said in the context of one particular battle. The immediately preceding verse says, “And fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression – for verily, God does not love aggressors.” The immediately following verse says, “If they desist, God is much forgiving: If they desist, then all hostilities shall cease.” In fact, every Qur’anic reference to fighting in a war is qualified by some moral condition of restraint: Muslims are commanded not to commit injustice, they are not to use violence disproportionate to that which threatens them, and they are not to use violence at all when credible avenues to peace are available.
    Of course, God also says, “Terror and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of your arm shall they be still as stone.” But he said that in the Book of Exodus. And then there is this quote: “At that time we took all his cities and completely destroyed them – men, women and children. We left no survivors.” That was Moses in Deuteronomy.
    Is the New Testament free of such language? In Luke, Jesus says, “I have come to cast fire upon the Earth… Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on Earth? I tell you No, but rather division.” Later he adds, “Whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.”
    What about stoning women who commit adultery? Actually, no such punishment is ever mentioned in the Qur’an. In fact, the Qur’an says nothing on the subject. There are a few times when stoning is mentioned in the text, but each time it is a threat being made by non-Muslims about what they might do to Muslims. Never does Allah or Muhammad condone such a thing.
    To be completely transparent, there is an Islamic story, not in the Qur’an, where an adulteress comes to Muhammad asking to be punished, in order to be purified so she will not have to spend eternity in Hell. At first, the Prophet did not know what to do, since there had been no divine revelation on the subject. So he went to see some Jews he was friends with to see if they had any suggestions, and he found out that the Torah talks about stoning adulterers. The Jews tried to hide this from him – probably because the injunction had never been taken literally and was never enforced, and they did not want him to! But the story says he did follow the written Jewish law, had her stoned, and because no divine Revelation ever came to him in which God objected (or mentioned it at all), the punishment was later absorbed because of this silence into Islamic law. The story may or may not have been fabricated, or embellished. In any case, it is a unique story in that the victim asked to be punished, and nothing in the Qur’an itself ever permits such barbarity.
    As to the famous Gospel story about Jesus preventing a mob from stoning an alleged adulteress, most biblical scholars agree that Jesus’ act of mercy was not out of keeping with the religious practice of the times. Other Rabbis would not have enforced the Leviticus code for stoning an adulteress; none would have said, “go on, stone her.” Jesus’ stance was well within his Jewish tradition.


    It is certainly long past time for Muslim political authorities to take the same stance.


    Some people are astonished that Islam would sanction a suicide bomber. In fact, Suicide is forbidden in Islam. It was not Allah , it was not Muhammad – it was Ayatollah Khomeini who said, “The purest joy in Islam is to kill or be killed for Allah.” Nowhere in the Qur’an is there any justification for suicide or indiscriminate slaughter.
    Here is my favorite quote from the Qur’an, from Chapter 5: “If God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community. But He willed it otherwise in order to test you by what he has vouchsafed to [each different tradition]. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works!”
    Lastly, here is an example of a Qur’anic verse that has often been used to justify violence and war, that extremists have used to brainwash their young followers, and fear-mongers have used to support their stereotypes. “Unto all hath Allah promised good: But those who strive and fight hath he distinguished above those who sit at home.”
    But consider: You can “strive and fight” within your own self, against your own negativity, your own moral weakness, your own cynicism and fear. You can “strive and fight” against emotional chaos, apathy, complacency and ignorance. I doubt many people of faith – any faith – would be shocked to hear that God has a special regard for those who “strive and fight” in this way.
    Why is this interpretation relevant? On the ride home from their final battle, Muhammad said to his Companions, “We have returned from the Lesser Holy War to the Greater Holy War.” When one of them asked him, “What is the Greater Holy War?” he replied, “The war within the soul.” That is the actual meaning of the word jihad.
    I hope this helps people see that Islam is not a religion of violence, any more than Judaism or Christianity are, and that the sacred scriptures of Islam, like any other holy book, must be taken in historical context, the words must be read within their own grammatical and linguistic context, and the stories need to be pondered, contemplated and interpreted for their inner spiritual meaning.
    Unfortunately, that cannot be the end of this discussion of Islam. We cannot take this information in and ignore contemporary reality. We cannot disregard the constant threat of terror that we are living with.
    But the religion of Islam, per se, is not the cause of war or terror. It is never religion itself that causes such misery. It is people who manipulate religion. The religion of Islam is not threatening anyone’s way of life. But the politicization of Islam clearly is. And it is threatening Muslims as much as or more than anyone else.
    Historically, extremist groups have always been marginalized and rejected by mainstream Islam as heretical aberrations. But now a major change has occurred. The magnificent Islamic civilization of the Middle Ages has crumbled, and traditional institutions that once sustained and promulgated Islamic theology – and marginalized extremism – have been taken over by state institutions.
    A thousand years ago, at the height of Islamic power, the tradition called Ijtihad – the spirit of discussion, debate and dissent – flourished, and was presided over by a class of religious scholars, independent of the political system, called jurists. From the 8th to the 12th century, some 135 schools of Islamic interpretation existed, as well as 70 great libraries. Divergent opinions and schools of thought were not only tolerated, they were celebrated. There was discrimination, and it was hardly an interfaith utopia, but historical evidence indicates that Jews living under Islam experienced much less persecution than the Jews living in European Christendom. Science and art thrived, and Islamic civilization laid the groundwork for the Renaissance.
    But in the centuries since, following the Crusades and the later invasions by Genghis Khan and his successors, as well as the inevitable internal political disputes and intrigues as opponents battle each other for power in a vast empire, the world has seen the demise of this high civilization, the stifling of Ijtihad, the closing of schools, the repression of critical independent thought, as the duty of the jurists has been co-opted by nationalistic politicians – technocrats serving as self-appointed arbiters of faith – who limit debate and interpretation, rather than expanding it, all to prop up their cultural and political goals and maintain the status quo. Now Muslims in these countries are silenced by relentless propaganda warning them that unity and strength demand conformity, debate only causes division, and division is synonymous with criminal heresy.
    Many people in this situation have been beaten into emotional submission, which is what the powers-that-be want. No doubt, many others continue to have questions and divergent opinions, but dare not speak out for fear of the response.
    Fanatic groups, like al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban (originally supported by the West as allies in our battle with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, but now turned virulently anti-American after witnessing so much carnage), are still intellectually and sociologically marginalized in Islam. But their highly visible acts of violence command the public stage.
    Nonetheless, I believe these fanatics will not achieve their ambition to remake the religious landscape of the Islamic world in their narrow image. There are too many rival traditions. The desire for freedom is too strong. And as Walter Russell Mead notes, against the drive for a more closed and narrow view of Islam, “the Internet is making the great works of Islamic scholarship available to tens of millions of Muslims, including women, who can and will be free to draw their own conclusions about what their faith means and how it should be lived. Theological diversity within Islam seems bound to increase.”
    In the meantime, it is important to understand that the supremacist thinking of Muslim extremists is grounded in culture, politics and nationalism – not religion. A culture of misguided ‘Honor’ has eroded the religion of Islam. ‘Honor” is an Arab cultural tradition that stresses the family or tribe over the individual. This custom is not Islamic – and for that matter, 80% of the world’s Muslims are not Arabic! – but many Muslims, like many Americans, confuse politics with religion.
    Under the Arab code of honor, Muslims are taught to abdicate their individuality and accept their fate as property of their family or tribe. It is this cultural tradition that silences reasoning and dissent, and at its worst leads to tragedy when a family feels “shame” and imagines they are compelled to murder their own children. Honor killings, genital mutilation, forced marriages of children, imprisoning innocent women because they’ve been attacked by rapists, and other disgraceful atrocities, have been defended for far too long in the Arab world under the guise of ‘tradition’ despite what the Qur’an teaches, and they have been overlooked for far too long in the Western world under the guise of ‘respecting other cultures’.
    To be fair, however: In recent times a number of current and former members of the U.S. military have told a district court that they were raped, assaulted or harassed during their service; that reports of sexual abuse of American servicewomen are routinely ignored; and that victims are retaliated against. The Defense Department recently estimated that 19,000 assaults occurred within the military in 2010, with 85 percent going unreported. Women who did report them have been demoted, jailed, told they are lying, told they are crazy, and discharged from service with loss of benefits. Violent sexist behavior, followed disgracefully by either denial, or by blaming and punishing the victim, is by no means the exclusive province of Arab societies.
    Meanwhile, in Palestine, Hamas relentlessly preaches to their subjects that the Middle East crisis is solely the fault of diabolical and subhuman Jews who must therefore be annihilated. The total annihilation of Israel and its people is their all-consuming goal. They reject any offers of peace because peace is not what they want. And land is not what they want. Previous offers of “land for peace”, previous offers of cease-fires, have brought no respite from attacks. Terrorist regimes see peace overtures as weakness, and they prey on weakness.
    But peace is what mothers and fathers and families want, it is what good decent people – whether Muslim, Christian or Jew – who simply wish to live their lives and raise their children, want. I suspect the only way it will finally be achieved – and it will finally be achieved – is when people rise up and rid themselves of rulers and fanatics who cavalierly sacrifice them on an altar of their political egos and hatred, who proudly admit they would rather see their own people suffer for a hundred years, than live in peace and prosperity with Israelis. From 2004 to 2008, 85% of al-Qaeda’s victims were Muslims! It doesn’t take the US or Israel to carry out barbarity against innocent Muslim families.
    The vast majority of Muslim people want peace, but in many ways, as history has taught us too many times, this is unfortunately irrelevant – just as it became irrelevant that most Germans were not Nazis, or that most Russians were not Stalinists. The terrorists have to be stopped. We are all being threatened, including most Muslims!
    Which is not to say that Israel is innocent. Such people are still few and far between, but there are extremists in Israel who openly talk about expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Israeli Arabs. There have been examples of viciousness and lawlessness in attacks on innocent Muslims. Peaceful non-political Palestinians are still not able to control their money and resources, or to move about freely. Although Hamas is clearly responsible for endlessly provoking Israel (with little or no concern for the safety and well-being of their own people) by launching thousands upon thousands of rockets against Israeli cities through the years, a case can certainly be made that Israel, with its far stronger military, has oftentimes responded in a disproportionate way – and that even with the efforts they make to protect civilian life, far too many men, women and children have been wounded or killed, thus punishing innocent Palestinians and driving their loved ones toward the extremist camp.

    As is true for all terrorist regimes, Hamas’ greatest ally is despair. They grow stronger and more encouraged as Palestinians lose hope of ever being allowed to live in peace, with dignity and self-respect, with happiness and prosperity. Nothing would weaken Hamas more than encouraging Palestinians to have hope in the future, to have faith that nonviolence, cooperation and friendship are possible. There are plenty of military and political steps which are going to have to be worked out and concluded, but if the Israelis ever want to stop spending all their energy destroying rockets, they are going to have to stop destroying hope.
    It is now critical and only just that Israel listen far more compassionately to the viewpoint of Palestinians – after all, how would any of us respond if we were suddenly told by a group of outsiders that our homes were no longer ours, that the land where our families had lived for generations and where we had raised our children, was about to be taken away; that the state where we live was henceforward the new sovereign homeland of the Native American peoples, in recompense for all the terror and slaughter of the past, just as the Nazis had terrorized and slaughtered European Jews? Might this not cause years and years of anger, hatred, and violence? The two sides have to keep negotiating, they have to keep trying. And in so doing, they will get some cease-fires, they will make a bit of progress.
    But the real path to peace is not through Israeli (or American) negotiations with these regimes, it is not through offering them land or money. The path to peace is through an unequivocal rejection of terror – by all decent people, who choose love over hate, and life over death.
    And I am hopeful, because sooner or later wisdom and decency always win out. There is much that has to be done to bring about peace, but arguably the most important is that each one of us becomes a living example of peace, justice, and love.
    This is always an option:


    We are all familiar with the stories of ‘righteous gentiles’, the many noble and courageous Christians who risked, and sometimes lost, their lives, helping to save European Jews from the Holocaust. But here is a story you might not know: During the Nazi occupation, entire Muslim villages in the small country of Albania sheltered Jews. During the previous years, as German Jews scrambled to get visas to escape the coming nightmare, country after country turned them away. Even the United States had a “quota” for Jews, and turned away thousands. But the Albanian Embassy granted visas without question.


    There was no concept of “stranger” in Albanian culture. For the Muslims of Albania, a “Foreigner” was a “Guest”, and they were treated with the same hospitality as the three angels who visited Abraham.

    I will conclude this chapter on tolerance with a story about the famous Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. One day, on a busy street in Louisville, Kentucky, Merton found himself surrounded by Jews and Christians, blacks and whites, men and women. He suddenly experienced what he called a “radical sensation of inclusion.” He later said about this moment:


    It was like I was waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a ‘special’ world – the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The sense of liberation from this illusion of difference was such a relief, that I laughed out loud.

    It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race.

  • Duty

    The great public narrative of our post-9/11 lives is that we are engaged in a War on Terror, a great battle between cosmic forces of Good and Evil. No rational person can deny that groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS are threatening civilization with wholesale destruction, and their barbarity and cruelty must be resisted and defeated. This was the lesson that Krishna taught Arjuna long ago in the Bhagavad Gita: sometimes one must do one’s duty, sometimes one must stand up for what is right and fight against evil, sometimes one must simply do what has to be done – even when this includes fighting or even killing. But Krishna also taught Arjuna that this is not to be done with a heart full of hatred, arrogance, or anger, but consciously and from a place of love, with no attachment to the outcome, without greedily wishing for vengeance or reward. It is not to be done for our own self-aggrandizement or to feed our ego’s illusions of superiority, but for a higher good, always remembering that there is infinitely more to the world than what we can see or understand. Similarly, when Christ taught his disciples to love their enemies, he was not being naïve, and he was not telling them to be docile. Like Krishna, he was teaching them that whatever has to be done must always be done with one’s heart in the right place. Of course we must protect ourselves, but an ‘us-vs-them’ mentality, fueled by fear, hatred, pride, and exaggerated stereotypes, will only prolong the horror. How many ages of bloodshed must pass before we see how useless this is, and how wise the words of Christ and Krishna really are.

  • Our Exquisitely Stupid Cleverness

    We have been promised that through a combination of enlightened commercial policies and advances in science and technology we will eventually usher in a wonderful future. But in fact, we are causing immense ruin to the world around us. This disconnect persists, as noted previously, because while politics, economics and technology have an important place in our lives, they are only valuable and effective when they are ruled by men and women of conscience. When conscience succumbs to meaninglessness, as we all too often witness, values are cheapened and short-sighted, and they are re-concocted anew each day by fashion, whim, and demands for entertainment and comfort. Politics, economics and technology then become the rulers, and we become their slaves. The only way these things can be a positive force for good is if we become conscious, responsible, honest and loving, use our intelligence, and refuse to ignore harsh realities.

    Since the time of the first European explorers, there has been a basic and “disturbing commitment,” in the words of Thomas Berry, “to conquer this continent and reduce it to human use.” This “exaltation of the human” coupled with the “subjugation of the natural” has been so excessive, Berry notes, that we are today forced to look for a fresh understanding of “how the human community and the living forms of Earth might now become a life-giving presence to each other,” rather than perpetuating the unconscious, life-destroying, violent competition between humanity and the world, that is grounded in the misguided and maladaptive ‘onlooker’ viewpoint of 19th-century science and the hollow presumption that accumulating wealth takes precedence over all other human obligations and aspirations.

    This ought to be a goal of education, but our educational system, from pre-school to the university, has routinely been collusive with the goals of exploitation. Only in the fields of art, music, literature, and occasionally in philosophy and some of the biological sciences, has the world outside our petty human cravings been given respect and attention, and these are precisely the fields that are considered ‘soft’, nonessential, and expendable in today’s education marketplace.

    The great achievements of the European settlers in the Americas – establishing a place where freedom could flourish, where people could worship or not worship as they please, where all individuals (not just the rich or “high born”) would have rights and opportunities, where governance would be determined by the governed and not merely imposed on the governed – have been flawed from the start by the dual corruptions of murdering indigenous people and plundering the land. The great achievements of science, technology, and economic insight that have helped bring about much relief from poverty, hunger, and sickness, have been accompanied by the thoughtless devastation of that very environment that is necessary for the perpetuation and prospering of life. Most of those who helped bring about our current world saw only the bright side of their achievements, uninterested in their ethical failures, unconcerned with the consequences of their political and commercial obsessions that have caused so much damage to this planet – which has routinely been treated as an “it” that exists only to slavishly serve us. “We behave in the family of Nature,” noted A. R. Orage nearly a century ago, “like self-indulgent children whose only object is to enjoy ourselves. If you will only ponder seriously for half an hour on the way we exploit natural resources, land, forests, and animals, for the gratification of abnormal desires, you cannot help but be appalled.”

    We all have learned the lesson, even when we forget to follow it, that other people are not in existence merely for us to use them. But we are still quite some distance from grasping the parallel truth that other living things, and the Earth itself, are also not in existence merely so that we can use them. It will take a great deal of emotional and intellectual maturity to realize this, we will have to get passed what a friend of mine once called “our exquisitely stupid cleverness.” But it is time to grow up.

  • Dining on Bacchus

    When all reflected on itself and contemplated endlessness,
    it dreamt itself in two while subtly looking on and being seen.
    From perfect point to perfect line, this Yin and Yang duality
    took form within androgeny.

    Amorphous Chaos, Gaia, Void, her multiverse of galaxies,
    thence known by lusty Uranos – that Uranos, the husband-son,
    who gushed his light upon her seas.

    Their dance of love at first brought forth those dreaded beasts of hideous form:
    the many-headed hydras and the monstrous cyclopes of one eye –
    demons of the hurricanes and thunder storms and lightning bolts,
    so feared by jealous Uranos he bound them deep within the pit.

    But Uranos and Gaia mated once again and now brought forth
    those sons and daughters of the starry world – the Titans, elder gods:
    Cronos, Rhea, Oceanus, Phoebe and Hyperion,
    Tethys, Themis, Hecate, Helios, Atlas and Prometheus.

    Storm and daylight, male and female, love and hate now all appeared:
    still two, still yet androgenous, this diverse multiplicity –
    like Heaven’s light on watery Earth dividing up the firmaments,
    dreaming endless worlds to come, the many still within the one.

    But Uranos despised this brood and kept them captive in his wife,
    and all recoiled in fear of him – til once when he approached his mate,
    his youngest, Cronos, lord of Time, unmanned his father with cruel flint.
    As Noah, too, from whom would come all life after the purging flood,
    was castrated by Ham, his son, when time decreed his work was done,
    so Uranos would seed the world to come no longer with his forms:
    his seed was spent, and now came forth the lord of Time and queen of Space.
    (Some say that hateful giants grew from Uranos’ blood spilled on land,
    but love’s great goddess, Aphrodite, sprang from drops spilled in the sea.)

    Unmanifest to manifest, unfathomable sacrifice,
    Heraclitus’ logos crosses through the veil between two worlds,
    connecting changeless endlessness to flowing rivers wrought in Time
    that parody Eternity. From Heav’n-above-Heav’n across that gap
    where Aphrodite’s task will be to loosen souls from density
    and free them back to endless bliss, now comes her brother Hermes, who
    alone traverses ‘cross these realms, from one, to two, and thence to four.

    Three points, three lines, the sacred Three – in Time, yet of Eternity –
    an elementary quantum flash, a mere potentiality
    appearing in this world of sense – this fourfold world of elements –
    and disappearing back again: the mystic Three, the missing link
    that disappears and reappears and disappears again between
    potential world and actual world: This Myst’ry, God’s geometry,
    this Three between the Two and Four, this Holy Spirit spanning realms,
    this mercurial Messenger, this flash beneath the atom’s state,
    behind the Big Bang’s magic point, is where one finds the source, the root –
    where “the beginning” still begins.

    Like pent up steam and lava bursting forth beyond the mountain’s grip,
    impatient Life’s volcanic force now cleaves the threshold’s door apart,
    and Iris with her rainbow bridge guides Being to Becoming’s realm:
    the grass, the seed, the fruit of trees, the beasts of water, land and sky,
    abundant life from Mother’s womb (the Sun with all her heat and light)
    where Three inseminated Four: “Be fruitful thence and multiply”.
    Thus Twelve, the sign of plenitude: twelve constellations of the sky;
    twelve patriarchs, twelve tribes of old; twelve chieftains born of Ishmael’s seed;
    twelve Tabernacle loaves of bread; the twelve who spread the word of Christ;
    the twelve who pledged at Aqabah; twelve baskets still when all were fed.

    Then stars begat the solar world, as Cronos King and Rhea Queen
    gave birth to planetary gods: to Zeus and twice-born Aphrodite,
    Mars, Demeter, brethren, sistren, twelve Olympian gods and goddesses,
    circling ‘round the mother Sol, the ‘heav’n’ we dream of “in the sky.”

    But when life crossed from World to world, Becoming tempted life with pride.
    Defiant Cronos, prideful King, would have no child usurp his throne
    (as he himself had long ago usurped his father Uranos,
    and just as Uranos and Gaia long had warned in prophecy.)
    Each day Time waited for each child and swallowed each upon their birth,
    til bitter Rhea took the just-born Zeus before his father knew,
    and hid him deep within her mother Gaia til his time should come,
    and gave instead to Cronos swaddling clothes with naught but stone inside.

    Then Zeus grew great and strong, and when the time of his adulthood came
    he forced his father to disgorge the stone and all his siblings too,
    and so came forth those gods and goddesses, born of this solar world.

    There followed, long and terrible, the War of Heaven twixt these two:
    the elder Titans, born above, against their children, born below.
    But now the Titans too were spent, for Life continued its descent.
    Zeus won by freeing from their pit the thunderous hydras, lords of storm,
    who lent him all their power and might, and gifted him their lightning flash.
    Then Zeus inflicted dire punishment on his defeated sires,
    banishing them all in chains to dark caves deep within the Earth –
    (except for Atlas doomed to bear the weight of earth upon his back,
    and two who sided with the gods: the Titan Epimetheus,
    and his great brother, Zeus’ friend, the Titan called Prometheus.)

    Thus Time does swallow and destroy all things within this world of sense –
    except for Zeus, that inner god, eternal Spirit hidden deep
    within our own archetypal mother, Gaia. Zeus, who promises
    to battle Time and Death with force that only comes from raising up
    those inner demons from our depths, and always ends victorious.

    Then Zeus lay down with Earth, Semele, child of Thebes and Harmony,
    and from this union twixt two worlds was born the child of Earth and Heaven:
    Bacchus, god of wine and dance, fertility, and ecstasy;
    Bacchus, god of wine and madness, blinding rage, and lunacy;
    Bacchus, born of Zeus, Above, and Semele, the Earth, Below;
    Bacchus, god of blood red wine, the soul, partaking of two worlds;
    the soul, connecting Heaven and Earth; the soul, impelling Life’s descent.

    Like other gods of vegetation, Bacchus died a violent death;
    Like other gods of vegetation, Bacchus was returned to life,
    much like a serpent symbolizing wisdom, evil, God and sin,
    shedding skin and symbolizing resurrection, Christ’s rebirth,
    rising to the heavens like a phallus filled with power and light,
    swallowing its tail before encircling the universe,
    diving into earth, and rock, and dust, and symbolizing death,
    serpents biting Moses’ people’s feet with poison, pain, and death,
    the serpent raised by Moses on a copper pole that granted life –
    the serpent power, the Holy Spirit – Logos, Eros, Thanatos.
    Like every god of vegetation, every soul succumbs to death;
    Like every god of vegetation, every soul returns to life.

    The goddess Hera, Zeus’ wife, despised his half-breed bastard child
    and plotted ways to kill the boy. But Zeus, aware her heart did rage,
    soon placed the boy into the care of guards he thought that he could trust.
    But Hera bribed them to her side, and gave a mirror to the child
    who stared into it, hypnotized, full fascinated with his face –
    beguiled by mere reflection, mere illusion, false reality –
    until unwittingly he wandered blindly into Hera’s trap:
    the cave of bitter co-conspirators, the Titans, chained below,
    who caught and tore the boy to pieces, boiled his flesh, and ate their fill.

    But Wisdom’s goddess, who had shared the treachery of Zeus’ wife,
    now repented of her actions and retrieved the young god’s heart.
    Athena brought it back to Zeus, who nurtured it and from the heart
    he brought his son, the god of wine, now resurrected, back to life.
    Then Zeus, enraged, took hold his mighty thunderbolt and aimed it true,
    and all the murderous Titans held below were soon reduced to ash.

    But in those ashes were retained the remnants of the wine god’s flesh,
    so from those ashes Zeus determined that his friend Prometheus
    would now create composite creatures, dust and soul, a human race,
    their lower nature made of stardust, ashes of the elder gods
    (who had grown bitter from their long interment deep in matter’s world),
    but also with a higher nature: charred remains of Zeus’ child.
    And thus these bodies, temples, all belong to Bacchus, lord of song.

    Who among us can deny the hypnotizing force of death,
    beguiling us with cruel and false illusions that we think are us?
    Like souls upon the shore awaiting Charon’s craft we fight to be
    the first aboard, the first to yield, the first to feed death’s hungry jowls.
    But all’s not lost if in our hearts a seed of Bacchus still resides,
    and if the spirit still can claim that seed and guide it to rebirth,
    permitting the celestial goddess, Aphrodite, to perform
    her task, releasing life from matter, back to our celestial home.

  • Another Snowy Evening

    Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

    by Robert Frost

    Whose woods these are I think I know.
    His house is in the village though;
    He will not see me stopping here
    To watch his woods fill up with snow.
    My little horse must think it queer
    To stop without a farmhouse near
    Between the woods and frozen lake
    The darkest evening of the year.He gives his harness bells a shake
    To ask if there is some mistake.
    The only other sound’s the sweep
    Of easy wind and downy flake.

    The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.

    This gallery contains 1 photographs in all as  frost photograph etc.

  • Thomas Merton

    mertonToday is Thomas Merton’s 100th birthday.

    One day, on a busy street in Louisville, Kentucky, the famous Trappist Monk found himself surrounded by Jews, Christians, Blacks, and Whites. He suddenly experienced what he called a radical sensation of inclusion. “It was like I was waking from a dream of separateness,” he later wrote, “of spurious self-isolation in a ‘special’ world – the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The sense of liberation from this illusion of difference was such a relief, that I laughed out loud.

    “It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race.”