Friday, February 10, 2017

Wisdom from Alan Watts

Alan Watts was a British philosopher, a mystic, and an Episcopal priest with master's in theology. He moved to California in the 50's where he started his studies in Asian philosophy where he became the first successful writer and thinker expounding Eastern mysticism. He proposed that Buddhism could be thought of as a form of psychotherapy and not a religion. He was a lucid writer and a bold thinker and seeker of wisdom.

I had read several of his books in the 70s, but only now after having been through a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat and now daily practicing mediation while studying it from the angle of neuroscience am I starting to appreciate a few things he discovered for himself and taught in his writings.

Here's some thoughts of his here compiled by Ideapod. I hope you can enjoy and appreciate like I now do.

On Suffering

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.”

“Your body does not eliminate poisons by knowing their names. To try to control fear or depression or boredom by calling them names is to resort to superstition of trust in curses and invocations. It is so easy to see why this does not work. Obviously, we try to know, name, and define fear in order to make it “objective,” that is, separate from ‘I’.”

On the Mind

“Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.”

On the Present Moment

“This is the real secret of life – to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”

“The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.”

“We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infintesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is. We are sick with a fascination for the useful tools of names and numbers, of symbols, signs, conceptions and ideas.”

“No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.”

“I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.”

“…tomorrow and plans for tomorrow can have no significance at all unless you are in full contact with the reality of the present, since it is in the present and only in the present that you live.”

On the Meaning of Life

“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”

On Faith

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.”

Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Artists

“Advice? I don’t have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don’t. Who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to.”

On Change

“The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.”

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

“You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean.”

“No one is more dangerously insane than one who is sane all the time: he is like a steel bridge without flexibility, and the order of his life is rigid and brittle.”

“Without birth and death, and without the perpetual transmutation of all the forms of life, the world would be static, rhythm-less, undancing, mummified.”

On Love

“Never pretend to a love which you do not actually feel, for love is not ours to command.”

On You

“What I am really saying is that you don’t need to do anything, because if you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomenon of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that, and there is nothing wrong with you at all.”

“Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.”

“But I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.”

On Technology

“Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.”

On the Universe

“We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.”

“Only words and conventions can isolate us from the entirely undefinable something which is everything.”

On Problems

“Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way.”


Monday, September 2, 2013

Can Christianity Survive on Squishy Post-Modern Ground?

(Another replay from the American Kitchen archives with some interesting considerations of Christianity as finding a place on the continuum between metaphor and literal. Something I was philosophically wrestling with at the time.)

[I read] an interesting article* on magical thinking as being the actual essence of religion... it seems the author is trying to bridge the gap some into the new post-modern era by soliciting a valid form of expression akin to poetry.

He describes a continuum between metaphorical and literal modes of understanding of religion and posits that we all move in our course of maturation from the literal to the metaphorical. In the process morality is maintained or even heightened from the more primitive strictly authoritarian faith-rule.

He describes how the Jews themselves "evolved" along this continuum throughout the Old Testament starting with Deuteronomy (meaning "second law") which was written later to "upgrade" some of the cruder more literal sacrifices and laws. Indeed it was Deuteronomy that declares the number one law is to love rather than to sacrifice.

My favorite section is as follows:

The point is that the semiotic space for such dialectical development has been built into religious language and symbolism, honed and augmented over centuries. To invent a social equivalent of religion out of thin air is akin to inventing a new language--much harder than it looks. So the rational elite may indeed be missing out on something--the "essence" of religion.

My suggestion is that while there is, and has always been, a great difference between the esoteric (metaphorical) and exoteric (literal) modes of religious understanding, there is also a continuum running between them. Many people move along this continuum in the course of their lives, beginning with the debunking of Santa Claus. As they learn the moral interpretations of mythic symbols and stories, they grow to put more emphasis on those interpretations than on the assertion that the stories really happened. Eventually they may come to feel that "God is within," animating their moral judgment and feeling for the world. But in most cases this doesn't prevent them from telling their children about Santa Claus, nor does it impel them to attack the "beliefs" of their less-advanced coreligionists.

Therefore it is wrong to classify everyone based on answers to polling questions about religious "belief." What people say they "believe" doesn't necessarily capture the functional role of the "beliefs," their symbolism and moral perspective. It doesn't tell you where they lie on the magical/moral continuum. So the picture of a tiny enlightened elite and literal-minded masses is also wrong.


All in all this reminds me very much of reading N. T. Wright and his push to be a Christian in the post-modern era by somehow giving up all the literalness of creation, miracles, virgin birth, resurrections and such as "narrative" expressions of the people themselves - not untrue, but not true either.

This rather leaves one on squishy ground, but if indeed we are at a major cultural crossroads in the magnitude of the Middle-ages to Enlightenment crossroads, then there just may be another acceptable mode of expression which can include worship of a creator in the genre of poetry, and story-telling that could be valid but not literal.

N. T. Wright, among other intellectual Christians, tend to suggest this is our future hope for the sustainability of Christianity. I'm inclined to agree.

[*sorry, link is now defunct - Rev. Sanders]

Is God a Metaphor?

(A rather harsh questioning of Christianity that's actually a re-post from American Kitchen on determining if God is better looked at as an anthropomorphism of the Good and how sanity forces to question if having a "personal relationship" with God as a person isn't maybe an illusion.)

.....................................................................
The below was a response I wrote to a friend after he sent me a typical mushy Christian modern parable email claiming that a super-intimate "walk" with God is the highest ideal - which may or may not be the case depending on how you want to look at it.
Feedback from all welcomed on this.

Dear friend,

[this is probably putting more energy into this than deserves … but oh well, here it goes…]

Emotional metaphor upon emotional metaphor….. … another cute story with minuscule interpretation of history playing off a twist of metaphors to give the illusion of a “revelation” --- only to trick the reader into somehow still feeling defeated for what the megalomaniac author claims to have with “there is no substitute for unconditional, intimate relationship with God” and holding out still the “hope” that this is actually possible and advisable to me.

Give me a break.

Well… yes…. First of all let me reply with “Well of course, I also want this great big giant spirit friend who will play the role of my father and who also happens to be the one-and-only original maker of all the universe. He can watch out for me, do things for me, protect me from death, be there for me to cry upon his shoulder; he’ll give me meaning and purpose in life and even magical wish-powers and knowledge of the vast eternal worlds that hold the living and the dead, the future and the past.

And all he wants in return is to be loved whole-heartedly.

For sure, I want to get in on this adoption policy.

How do I sign up and how soon can I meet this giant friendly maker of the universe? And can we be best buddies?

Will I have to sort of pretend? You know, have faith that when I talk he is listening and when I’m sorry he forgives me and when I ask for something and he doesn’t give it to me that he was really watching out for my best interests anyway?

Do I have to get with other people who pretend this same talking-to-the-giant-buddy game, so we can confirm each other that “yep, you’ve had some more evidence, too? Well, so have I. This big spirit buddy really is there and he’s watching over me and you both.”


Do I have to really train my mind with lots of ancient stories and writings that when interpreted personally I can feel like this is how the giant spirit buddy is communicating with me? How can I know when he really is talking to me and it’s not just my imagination or wishful thinking or even my own internal neurotic self at work? Should I just “have faith” and that’ll sort of make it so?



I’m not suggesting that it isn’t possible to “love God with all your heart and soul” ….. if you simply change the word “the God” to “the Good” which is what the metaphor is most likely trying to capture anyway.

This could be doable and I could even understand it as the highest command.

But if I make this concept of “Good” into a giant personal spirit buddy daddy deity who lives in the sky, I find it a little harder to stay in touch with Him and to stay in touch with reality at the same time.

I’m not saying there is no God. I’m saying that your “intimate relationship with God” may actually be a personal relationship with Good.

Yours in Love and Truth,
Reverend Sanders

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Many Gods

China has many Gods. MANY Gods!

I went to a Taoist temple in Xiamen, China a few weeks ago. As I'm hiking up behind the temple, where paths cascade through gardens and sacred places of worship, I came upon a small cave that had at least several hundred statuettes of the many Gods in China.

While inquiring to a Chinese co-worker about the various Gods, himself also an admitted Taoist, he told me it's very simple. You have a God for just everything. "If you want success, you pray to the success God. If you want safety, you pray to the safety God."

I'm reading a book on present day Chinese culture and I came across a reference to a "Kitchen" God.

I'm thinking about looking more into these Gods. I like how they are all specialists.

Love,
Reverend Sanders


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Can Atheists Get Into Heaven? Can a Jew Go to Heaven?

Dear Church members,

I get asked a lot, "Can atheists go to heaven?"  Or for that matter what about all the Jews? -- the ones don't believe in Jesus? Well I found a nice interview with Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest mega-church in North America that answers these exact questions. He is a reprint of that interview with Larry King.

Faithfully Yours,
Reverend Sanders
KING: Phoenix, Arizona. Hello.

CALLER: Hello, Larry. You're the best, and thank you, Joe -- Joel -- for your positive messages and your book. I'm wondering, though, why you side-stepped Larry's earlier question about how we get to heaven? The bible clearly tells us that Jesus is the way, the truth and the light and the only way to the father is through him. That's not really a message of condemnation but of truth.

OSTEEN: Yes, I would agree with her. I believe that...

KING: So then a Jew is not going to heaven?

OSTEEN: No. Here's my thing, Larry, is I can't judge somebody's heart. You know? Only god can look at somebody's heart, and so -- I don't know. To me, it's not my business to say, you know, this one is or this one isn't. I just say, here's what the bible teaches and I'm going to put my faith in Christ. And I just I think it's wrong when you go around saying, you're saying you're not going, you're not going, you're not going, because it's not exactly my way. I'm just...

KING: But you believe your way.

OSTEEN: I believe my way. I believe my way with all my heart.

KING: But for someone who doesn't share it is wrong, isn't he?

OSTEEN: Well, yes. Well, I don't know if I look at it like that. I would present my way, but I'm just going to let god be the judge of that. I don't know. I don't know.

KING: So you make no judgment on anyone?

OSTEEN: No. But I...

KING: What about atheists?

OSTEEN: You know what, I'm going to let someone -- I'm going to let god be the judge of who goes to heaven and hell. I just -- again, I present the truth, and I say it every week. You know, I believe it's a relationship with Jesus. But you know what? I'm not going to go around telling everybody else if they don't want to believe that that's going to be their choice. God's got to look at your own heart. God's got to look at your heart, and only god knows that.

KING: You believe there's a place called heaven?

OSTEEN: I believe there is. Yes. You know, you've had a lot of the near-death experiences and things like that. Some of that is very, to me, not that you need that as proof, but it shows you these little kids seeing the angels and things like that.

KING: We'll take a break, and when we come back, the better half, Victoria, will join us. Don't go away.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Admiral Viceroy Of Interpretive Dancing

Welcome to the First Utilitarian Church of Knowledge. I recently left my post as Dean of Flamenco Dancing, of which, I had served long and hard. Regrettably I had been reprimanded one too many times for reinterpreting those beautiful and structured dances. I yearned for more. More expression, more freedom, more tolerance of unrestricted movement. I was asked to remove the taps from my shoes, however I was able to keep the fan. Humbled I walked the Texas woods in search of inspiration and belonging. It was hot and I was fanning myself like crazy when suddenly I felt the need to express my situation through interpretive dance. It was at that moment when Rev. Sanders happened by. So touched and moved by the pureness of my actions he welcomed me into the First Utilitarian Church of Knowledge where I was ceremoniously appointed Admiral Viceroy Of Interpretive Dancing. I encourage freedom of movement and expression every day. Dance for joy, dance for the blues, dance for yourself, just keep dancing.
Dancing is free and it cures almost everything. Until then......... be safe and spontaneous.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Self Direction

As our church is formulating our tenants, we are searching for help from members. This article captures some of the problems and definitions that I see we face. Input from other welcome.

To be autonomous requires that people have a developed self, to which their actions can be ascribed. 'In turn this requires a consciousness of oneself as a being who acts for reasons, whose behaviour can be explained by reference to one's own goals and purposes' (Lindley 1986: 6). A second dimension of autonomy requires freedom from external constraints. That is to say, an autonomous person is someone who is not manipulated by others. Such a person is able to act in pursuit of self-chosen goals.