Archive for December, 2007

The New Model Of The Observer/Observed Relationship

December 29, 2007
250 magnify

The New Model Of The Observer/Observed Relationship—A Difference That Makes A Difference

This is a two for one Blog, — this one and the one below

Instead of another bicycle trip post, I’m taking time out to blog another way to perceive the relationship that occurs between observer and object observed. If we are ever going to get beyond the incongruity that separates how we perceive and understand the micro and macro universe, a different model of perception, I believe, is necessary. I am not suggesting that science has it wrong. I am suggesting, though, that a more encompassing model of perception will provide science—science being how we understand the physical world–a more comprehensive and coherent platform from which to understand how the universe works. So far in my blog, I have made various attempts at describing culturally generated mystical visions, but on this bicycle trip I change direction. On this bicycle trip I talk about quantum mechanics, Relativity theory, and epistemology and that’s why I am posting the above diagram now. However, except for this post, I will not talk about the above diagram. I am posting it only as a reference point that could be useful if questions arise. After I complete my bicycle trip, though, I will begin to use the diagram to facilitate further discussion.

To lighten things up a bit, let’s say the above diagram was created to help me write a sci-fi novella (one that remains unwritten). The novella’s plot went something like this: On a terrestrial planet that no longer supports life, some space explorers discovered a temple. Inside they found preserved texts, which, luckily, their onboard ship computer could translate. Fortunately, for this blog, the translated texts and the above diagram reveal the same thing—the meaning of the universe. Okay, I may be speaking a bit tongue and cheek here, but only a little.

So back to the other story; aren’t we all looking for a means to feel secure, at home, and connected to a meaningful universe? Without trying to besmirch anybody’s religion, isn’t that what religion is all about,–to make people feel comfortable, at home, chosen, — and loved, by that which nurtured all of us into existence in the first place? Every culture produces heroes, myths, shamans, and priests, all of which breathe religious meaning into existence. Rights of passage, totem and ancestor worship, religious rites and rituals—all contribute to the how and why of existence. The “how” of existence is also considered the main subject matter of science, but that doesn’t void the “why.” Take, for instance, Albert Einstein, he did not practice any orthodox form of religion, yet, in my opinion, he was as devout as any priest. When coaxed into answering the question: “Do you believe in God?” he hesitated, and then said words to the effect, “Well if I do believe in God, it would be the God of Spinoza.” Putting challenging questions to orthodoxy, while at the same time aspiring to coherent, unifying answers to those same questions, I believe is the definition of a religious person. Before I talk more about the specifics of the above diagram, I offer one of my favorite Einstein quotes:

“Man tries to make for himself in the fashion that suits him best a simplified and intelligible picture of the world; he then tries to some extent to substitute this cosmos of his for the world of experience, and thus overcome it. This is what the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientist do, each in his own fashion. Each makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way the peace and security which he cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.”

(Einstein, Ideas And Opinions, p. 225)

For me at least, the above diagram, speaks directly to this Einstein quote, as it also speaks to the issues of why nature responds so strangely when certain questions are put to her, questions like: wave or particle? Why is the universe comprehensible as opposed to incomprehensible? Is nature independent of the observer? Why, on the quantum level, do we find a physical reality with no uniquely determinable location, a physical reality that exists in several states at the same time, a physical reality structured by a mathematical equation? Nature’s response to these types of questions becomes less strange, I believe, if we look through the prism of the above diagramed relationships– at the relationship that occurs between object observed and observer. But first, here is one version of the standard reductionist model for this relationship:

“The process of knowing which starts with a physical object, makes it reflect light rays which are refracted by the lens of our eyes, and, finally, ends up with a stimulus upon the retina, there to elicit neuron impulses and final sensation in our brain. Such an analysis, while it may be entirely accurate as the final scientific version of certain types of experience, confuses the beginning with the end of the process of knowing and takes for granted the ontological status of constructs whose genesis is here at issue.”

(Margenau, Nature of Physical Reality, p.173)

It is not that science is wrong. It is just that science is limiting itself to a small piece of a much larger picture, one that when looked at in its entirety, reflects the connections that turns the perceptual process into a chain of processes which, ultimately, comes together in the identification of the known world. Let me begin by labeling how I perceive the known world and then conclude this blog with some comments concerning the relevance of that perception.

Layered Sequencing Of Platforms—Reductionist, Life, Mind—That Constitute Self.

1 R—The reductionist, mass/energy, platform.

2 L—The life, biological/reproductive, platform.

3 M—The mind, symbol/meaning, platform.

4 S—Human self—is not an entity, rather, it is intersubjective boundary horizons.

5 The reductionist, physical/cultural, self-boundary quadrant.

6 The life, biological/emotional, self-boundary quadrant.

7 The mind, psychological, sociocultural, self-boundary quadrant of human discourse.

8 The connecting bridge that separates and connects the life platform to the mind platform.

9 The connecting bridge that separates and connects the mind platform to the life platform as well as to the life platform’s limiting condition—the reductionist platform.

Science, doing science, is limited to the reductionist, physical/cultural, self-boundary, or the dark blue quadrant. The pink horizon of self is part of that quadrant, but I have made it pink for labeling purposes. In other words, when I look up from my computer screen, I see a physical world of cinder block walls (I’m at work), tile floors, furniture, colors etc. My five senses inform me of this world and science informs me that there is more to these sensations then what my five senses are telling me about the nature of this world. The unfortunate thing about science is that, in most cases, it tries to reduce all other quadrants, life and mind, to the physical/cultural platform—not possible.

The red horizon of self is a product of the overlap of the mind/life platforms—the green quadrant. This quadrant, in addition to representing life, also represents emotional life. Emotions are a defining characteristic of the plant/animal kingdom (yes, a quirky group of scientists have produced evidence that plants have feelings), but emotions are not just a product of the green quadrant. Emotions are informed by the mind and that is the difference that makes a difference. J.E. Creighton puts it like this:

“In the development of mind, feeling does not remain a static element, constant in form and content at all levels, but…is transformed and disciplined through its interplay with other aspects of experience…Indeed, the character of the feeling in any experience may be taken as an index of the mind’s grasp of its object; at the lower levels of experience, where the mind is only partially or superficially involved, feeling appears as something isolated and opaque, as the passive accompaniment of mere bodily sensation… In the higher experience, the feelings assume an entirely different character, just as do the sensations and the other contents of mind.” (Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key, A Study in the Symbolism of Rite, Reason, and Art, p. 100)

The yellow self-horizon is also a product of the overlap of the mind/life/reductionist platforms, but its content—the purple quadrant, is restricted to the psychological, sociocultural, self-boundary of human discourse. This purple quadrant deviates somewhat from the standard science model, which lumps the “self “into the “physical stuff” of body/brain/mind— the blue quadrant. However, there is some disagreement here. If you were to ask a “structuralist” or a “symbolic anthropologist” if the mind can stand alone, their answers would be interesting. Here’s how the philosopher, Ernst Cassirer, addressed this question:

“Man has, as it were, discovered a new method of adapting himself to his environment. Between the receptor system and the effector system, which are to be found in all animal species, we find in man a third link which we may describe as the “symbolic system.” This new acquisition transforms the whole of human life. As compared with the other animals man lives not merely in a broader reality; he lives, so to speak, in a new dimension of reality.” (An Essay On Man, p. 25)

Cassirer, also adds:

“All knowledge of the world and all strictly spiritual action upon the world require that I thrust the world back from itself, that in contemplation as in action it gain a certain distance from it. Animals do not know this distance: the animal lives in his environment; he does not place himself over against it and so represent it. This acquisition of the world as idea is, rather, the aim and product of the symbolic forms ––the result of language, myth, religion, art, and theoretical knowledge.” (Cassirer, The Phenomenology of Knowledge, p. 276)

The reductionist/ life/mind platforms are connected and separated by bridges. These bridges hold everything together. The self, or our experience of self, starts at the horizons of the overlapping quadrants and proceeds inward via our experiences of these quadrants. Concerning the bridges, just to give this a little perspective, in Greek mythology one of Hercules twelve labors was to get some fabled apples.
To complete that task, he had to free Atlas from shouldering the world by taking the world upon his own shoulders, (Atlas being the only one who could retrieve the apples). In Chinese mythology, the jovial Chuang-tzu, when asked what supports the turtle that supports the world, (the world sits on the tortoise shell), replied, “Its turtles all the way down.” Well, in my cosmology, the self-contained bridges which separate and connect the three platforms are a bit like the turtles all the way down.

Advertisements

Observer/Observed Relationship Concluded

December 29, 2007
333 magnify

The New Model Of The Observer/Observed Relationship—A Difference That Makes A Difference– Concluded

Looking again at the highlighted quadrants in the diagram above, the reductionist/life bridge is clearly marked as #8. This bridge is positioned at the overlap of the brown and green quadrants. Upon completion of my bicycle trip, I will talk more about the events that contributed to the creation/discovery of this quadrant idea, but until then I have a few concluding words about the other bridge, the one that is positioned where the blue and green and the blue and brown lines cross. As marked, the #9 bridge both connects and separates the mind quadrant to– the life quadrant and reductionist quadrant. It is because of this bridge that I/you can read, write, and understand meanings. It is also because of this bridge that (to borrow a phrase from Clifford Geertz), I/you can “understand how it is we understand understandings not our own.”

It was not easy finding words to describe the #9 bridge, but, in the end, I chose the computer jargon words of uploading and downloading. Where the blue and green lines meet, at the front end of this bridge, a kind of uploading occurs, and where the blue and brown lines meet, at the other end of the bridge, a kind of downloading occurs. At the uploaded blue/green intersection, we confront/discover the fundamental problems of human existence—including the nature and meaning of life as well as the ways in which human identity is defined and maintained. It is also at this intersection where the universe, as an object of thought, takes on at least as much significance as does the more necessary effort of satisfying our own personalized needs. At the front end of the #9 bridge, discrimination, curiosity, inquiry, imaginative insight (which I might add is the source of this particular blog), creativity, skepticism, and analysis are uploaded.

At the off-ramp of the #9 bridge, where the mind quadrant is connected to and separated from the reductionist quadrant, where downloading occurs, we, once again, encounter the body/brain/mind event. At this intersection (the overlap of the blue and brown lines), we discover recorded history—and the many past, present, (and future) scientific events where, as a consequence of logical and mathematical based predictions, we observe, via scientific instruments, e.g. telescopes, cyclotrons, etc. (blue quadrant material engineered for the purpose of extending the range of our five senses), the truth or falsity of those predictions. All inquiry, at this intersection, is restricted to sensed events and, according to Harris, “relationships that are knowable by means of explicit, logico-empirical, inductive-deductive, quantifiable public procedures or ‘operations’ subject to replication by independent observers.” (James Lett, The Human Enterprise, p. 89).

Well, I hope this new model of the observer/observed relationship is clearer now, but if it isn’t, stay tuned because at the completion of my northwest bicycle trip I will be talking more about these ideas and the bridges that support them.

The self is a marvelous work of nature; its horizons are continuous with everything we know about life, mind, and universe. Leonard Cohen is absolutely ON when he sings in his Ten New Songs CD: “You live your life as if it’s real, A Thousand Kisses Deep.” I would only change one world, “A Universe Of Kisses Deep.”

Take care,

dave

Trees Are Six Arm Spans Around In Bicycle Heaven

December 21, 2007

333 magnify

Humboldt Redwood Forest

May 29, ‘80

Hi journal! It’s just you and me again.

After a good breakfast of pancakes, I packed up and was on my way. The sun was just beginning to break through the morning haze, and the hills were not too steep. Soon, I was down to my shorts and tee shirt. Twenty miles or so up the highway, I came to a sign that read Avenue of the Giants. It was a scenic turnoff paralleling Highway 1. It went straight through Humboldt Redwood Forest. Needless to say, I took it and was delighted. In fact, the whole day was like that– being reborn in bicycle heaven. There was little traffic, and the scenery was excellent. At one point, I stopped and picked out a good size Redwood, and stretched my arms around its trunk. By the time I made it completely around I had counted six arm spans—pretty amazing, not to mention beautiful. (Maybe abbreviated arm span is a better descriptive measure since I was careful not to disturb the humongous spider population that inhabited the tree bark.)

I traveled the Avenue of the Giants all the way to the end where I was supposed to find Pepperwood. I did find the end of the highway, but somewhere along the way I missed Pepperwood. As far as I could tell, Pepperwood must have been the assortment of vegetable stands (three or four) that were closed. Consequently, I’m sitting in this field, eating leftover cheetos and drinking the left over beer that I carried with me from last night’s six-pack. The closest town is nine miles away. At least here, in this field, I’m far enough off the highway to comfortably camp. I had to stop biking for fear of re-injuring my knee.

I didn’t push it today. After looking at the map, I think I rode around 55 miles. The last hour, though, was painful. I don’t know what to expect for tomorrow, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I nursed this knee all the way to Canada. I’m almost done with my second beer and the cheetos were gone after my first. It looks like I might be into breakfast tomorrow morning.

June 1

I’m not feeling too good today. The rain didn’t stop until early afternoon. Maybe this coffee I’m about to have will cheer me up some. Am I turning you into a diary? I hope not, but that’s about the way I feel. Sometimes I wonder if getting older goes through an irreversible mental process just like the physical aging process. The water ought to be boiling by now

Yesterday, when I got on my bike, my knee felt real bad. I rode about a hundred yards and then turned around and headed back to Trinidad. I asked at a gas station how far the next hiker-biker campground was, “About five miles down the road,” the lady said. I decided to walk, but at the top of every hill, I would hop on my bike and coast to the bottom. By the time I reached the campground I couldn’t even walk. I used my bike for a crutch.

I’m writing now, after my second day of rest, but my knee is still in sad shape—swollen and sore. I’m not sure where to go from here. Tomorrow, Chuck, the young ranger, is going to drive me into Trinidad. I guess I’m going to catch a bus to Eureka and look for employment. My biking days are finished for now at least. If I can find employment and share rent with somebody, maybe I can endure for however long it takes to get healthy. My one comforting thought is that athletes bend, tear, sprain, strain, mutilate, and break their bodies and within a week they’re right back out on the playing field. Why not me?

Time for a few words about whatever–although I’m not in a good mood. Yesterday, I met Dave, Jeff, and Christopher. Dave hitchhiked into this park (a really nice park, two miles across, and few people), I don’t know about Jeff and Christopher. They invited me over for dinner. I didn’t want to go, but I figured any company would be better than my own. I was wrong. It’s not worth describing the negative vibes I got from those guys. It’s hard to believe that I once wanted to be like them.

Oh what’s the use, I don’t feel like writing anyway. After I finish this coffee, I’ll go for some firewood, and start my spaghetti dinner. P.S.—So far my tent is working, but I haven’t had a really good rainstorm to test it yet. Well, at least that’s something to look forward to that’s realistic!

When Shared With Others Beautiful Scenery Was Even More Beautiful

Patrick Point State Park

June 3

Yesterday, ranger Chuck drove me to the bus station and I caught my ride to Eureka. I checked in with the employment office, and I talked with some fishermen. I found out there was 18% to 25% unemployment in the area. Work, for me was not going to happen, so I went to the Greyhound bus station and checked prices. I could catch a bus to Olympia, Washington for $50. (I planned to visit Eddy, my old buddy from Hawaii). I also found out that $200. would buy me a two-week bus pass to anywhere in the continental U.S
.A.
Before making that decision, however, I thought I would hitchhike up to Humbolt University and talk with an athletic trainer about my knee. I figured it couldn’t hurt.

The news was not good, but the guy was sympathetic. He told me it takes a long time for a knee injury to heal. “Take lots of ice and aspirins,” he said. Since I was already at the university, I checked out the bookstore. They had a pretty decent Philosophy Department.

Heading back up to Patrick Point, Paul picked me up hitchhiking. He dropped me off just south of Trinidad, so I decided to buy some ice for my knee, and then hop on a bus. Unfortunately, Paul took off before I could get my bike pannier from out of the back of his truck. He mentioned he was going to Moonstone beach, so after considerable hassle, I arrived at the beach only to find that he was not there. I stayed, though. It was a beautiful beach. It was a good thing, too, because he finally did show up. He offered to give me a ride back up to my campsite, but he wanted to practice his rock climbing first (that’s why he had come to this beach). Just off shore were some huge rocks, which, at low tide, were accessible. I also climbed, but when I reached the first perch, I stopped. It was a beautiful view the ocean.

Back at my campsite, I packed my knee in ice and ate a lot of aspirins. This morning I limped down to Palmer’s Point, and then hobbled down the cliff to the sea. On the offshore rocks was a large group of sea lions. Some of them were having a good time frolicking in the sea just off the rocky shelf. There were all shapes and sizes, and the sea lions ranged in color from tan to black. After hanging there for a while, I decided I wanted to play some music. I walked back to camp, got my horn, and found a nice rock to sit on down by the surf. The sun was hot, but there was a breeze, making it a perfect day. I almost felt like writing poetry, but when I tried to write, nothing happened. I guess this journal entry will have to suffice.

On my last night before I planned to bike north, I was anxious. I wasn’t sure if I could pedal long distance. Fortunately, I didn’t have long to worry about it because that’s when Lisa and Jade bicycled into the park. They were a just married couple who had chosen to bicycle from their Oakland apartment up to Oregon for their honeymoon. Once there, they planned to spend their summer living in a commune in central Oregon. Talking with them, I felt like I had just passed back into the 1960’s. They practiced both a vegetarian and “saving the world” lifestyle. Lisa was the “perfect woman,” and Jade, with his blond hair, could have been the poster boy for Malibu Surfboards. Both were going to be schoolteachers. Lisa had another year of school to go, but Jade would start teaching High School science in a few months. They were the perfect medicine for me. My fears about the future all but disappeared.

The next morning, after we hiked down to the colorful tidal pools along the rocky shelf, and then later stuffed ourselves on the delicious batch of pancakes offered up by Lisa (thanks Lisa), the three of us packed our bikes and headed out to the highway. Lisa and Jade didn’t bike like I did and that was just great for me. It was easy to keep up. I also found that the beautiful scenery was even more beautiful when shared with others.

Enjoy The Holidays Everyone!

Could I Really Give Up My Apartment, Color TV, Stereo, And Steady Paycheck For Spirituality

December 15, 2007
Apartment 2

Wet, Writing In My Tent

May 24, ‘80

Well here I am again, eating Cheez Whiz, Bar-B-Q potato chips and drinking the beer left over from yesterday. I didn’t plan it this way, but that’s the rest of the story. It’s raining.

To finish yesterday’s cut short by darkness journal entry– in my three-day stay at JFKU, in addition to the classes already mentioned, I attended two more. In the first one, we sat around and smelled test tubes. The ingredients, or rather the odors, were supposed to heal “wayward souls.” I misread the schedule for the other class and got there at about the same time it was letting out, but I still managed to talk to a couple of the students, which brings me to my last disappointment concerning JFKU.

At night, after attending classes, I camped just behind the baseball field. It was really a playground. I would have appreciated it if one of the students I met at JFKU would have offered me a place to sleep, or at least a shower, but that didn’t happen. Besides lacking in hospitality, the student’s seemed to be lacking in another way. It wasn’t that they weren’t into the whole JFKU experience, indeed, the consensus had it that this was the only place in the country where one could get an accredited M.A. degree in mysticism. What bothered me was that I didn’t run across any extraordinary people. Instead, I found financially struggling students enrolled in an extraordinary program. Maybe I expected too much. Maybe it was ludicrous to think I would find Ram Dass’s walking around. I found no “guru type” people at JFKU. However, before I left, I did find one “guru type” person.

On Wednesday, I took the Bart (bay area public transportation) to the end of the line, and then hitched-hiked to Petaluma. I was going to see Bill Fannin. Back at CMU, in a conversation with Larry Simmons (Larry was the Time, Space, And Knowledge seminar facilitator), I expressed a desire to seek a more spiritually oriented education. “If you ever get to California,” he said, “look up Bill Fannin.” I figured why pass up the opportunity, so there I was, in California, not far from Petaluma, on my way to look up Bill Fannin.

His address in my hand, I knocked at the door of a large house. A beautiful Hawaiian girl answered. Bill Fannin wasn’t home, but the girl expected him back shortly. After we went inside, and I explained to her why I had come to see Bill, she began telling me about the time when she first met him. Because she was so friendly (and honest) I perhaps got a little more information than I needed.

She met Bill while living on the street. “He saved my life,” she said. After he took her in, she became one of many that he saved, or tried to save. Bill ran a ranch for displaced kids. Apparently, he took a special liking to her because she was, with his help, in the final stages of graduating from university with a counseling degree. As might be expected, she was grateful to Bill, but she was ready to move on. She had worked at the ranch mentoring youth for years. Now she was looking forward to making money in a real job. She was more than ready to live on her own, and I could understand that. Of course, Bill had helped her, but she had never made more than minimum wage. She felt that she had earned a better life, a “normal” one.

In the few moments of silence that I had before Bill returned, I started to have doubts as to whether I really could give up my apartment, stereo, color TV, and steady paycheck, and then take up residence in dormitory austerity. Then I took a deep breath and tried to relax. I hadn’t come here to give all that up. I had come here to check out this guy Bill Fannin, and that’s what I planned to do. But even with that somewhat comforting thought, I still couldn’t relax.

When Bill finally did show up it was like meeting an old friend. We went into the dinning room, and he fixed us a pot of tea. At first, our conversation was somewhat strained. I couldn’t let on that I was aspiring to be a more spiritual person, even though that’s exactly what I wanted to talk about; that said, however, he was very easy to talk to. In fact, it was almost as if he could read my mind. Whenever I would tense up or become tongue-tied he would move the conversation in another direction. While we were talking, another fellow came into the room, an architect who was donating his time to help build a new section on the Nyingma Institute (In addition to helping kids, Bill was also legal consultant to the Buddhist Nyingma Institute). John, the architect, was apologizing for not being able to get the project done on time. After Bill’s pep talk, John was ready to try harder. It was amazing how in those few brief moments Bill was able to turn this fellow’s attitude completely around, from a “no can do,” to a “can do” promise.

When it was time to leave, Bill offered to drive me to the bus station where he assured me it wouldn’t cost much to get back to where I could catch the BART. On the way to the bus station, he told me how he had become involved in Tibetan Buddhism. Originally, he was like everybody else, an aspiring student who wanted the “good life.” He got to a point where he became a successful Washington D.C. lawyer, but even with all that prestige and money he still was not satisfied. He decided to go back to Tucson, A
rizona
(his home town) and start his own law practice.

Even though he had it all, it wasn’t enough, and he didn’t know what to do about it. Before returning to Tucson, though, he went on a trip, an around the world trip. He visited a Hong Kong monastery, and in Tibet he even trained under a Buddhist monk. After all that, he returned to Tucson and opened his law practice, but he still wasn’t happy. Depressed, he closed up shop one afternoon and ended up at his neighbor’s house for some afternoon tea. His elderly female neighbor just happened to be having tea with a Tibetan high lama at the time. He had no idea she was even interested in Buddhism, let alone that she had a friend who was the Tibetan monk, Tarthang Tulku.

Well the rest, as they say, is history. Bill quit his law practice and took up helping kids get a “step up” in an unsympathetic world. He did, however, continue to do some legal work for the institute. I knew I was in the presence of a very special man, but instead of volunteering to work on his ranch, I chose to go back to my custodian job in Mt. Pleasant. Maybe some day I will council disadvantaged kids, but then again maybe I won’t. I was okay with that decision. I was glad I had come up to Petaluma to meet Bill Fannin. I wished everybody in the world could be like him, but right now I had a bicycle trip to attend to and that’s what I set my mind to do. After I got back to JFKU, I set up my tent behind the baseball field and sat down to enjoy the beer that I had brought back with me.

What Good Is Money If You Don’t Spend It On Meaningful Things

Legget, California

May 28, ‘80

I’m waiting for my clothes to dry, sitting on a large rock, in the waning part of a beautiful afternoon. I just washed them in the sparkling green river that runs before me. Looking up, I see 75-foot riverbanks and the tops of California Redwood trees above that. I hiked to this spot. When I return, I’ll take my last shower and buy some beer. Tomorrow I will see if I am fit enough to bicycle in these California hills.

When I headed north from JFKU, I knew I was facing lots of up and down bicycling. I chose not to bike the coast. Instead, I headed towards Napa Valley, into wine country. I hoped to condition myself in the valleys, so when the time came, I would be in shape for the coastal mountains. Biking the Napa Valley, the crem-dela-crem of California’s wine country, was really nice. The only thing that could have gone wrong, though, was the weather, and it did. I rode through two rain showers before I finally gave up and found a place to put up my tent for the evening. I had the right idea, to head north through the valleys, but the wrong timing. A strong headwind put an incredible strain on my left knee.

I was up against the wind again on my second day. I followed along the shores of a lake, and, in the afternoon, I found myself biking some beautiful rolling hills. My knee just about broke under the pressure. I thought my route would keep me out of the hills, but Northern California is very beautiful and that means hilly. I ended up camping in the Mendocino Lake area. The rain persuaded the three fishermen that were there to call it day, leaving me to enjoy the wilds of California hill country alone in my tent. I have a somewhat different attitude than on past trips. I guess you could say that I’m now a veteran bicycler. I expect the bad as well as the good. That attitude makes the bad not so bad, and the good much better. And further, I chose to do this bicycle trip, not because I needed to prove something to myself, but rather, because it seemed like the nicest way possible to spend my time. That motive, even with my sore knee, keeps my attitude positive.

When I passed through Legget, a small California logging town, on my first day out, I found a celebration going on. The townspeople were having their annual Memorial Mountain Folk Festival. I decided to take in some of the “doings,” so after I got my tent set up, and walked back into town (about 1.5 miles), I enjoyed watching the ax throwing contest and the saw competition. There were lots of booths selling wares and crafts, and a beer booth that I visited on a number of occasions. I spent a lot of time admiring the blond haired kid’s pictures at his
photography exhibit. He was a nature freak, apparently. A lot of his pictures, all nature pictures, were taken in the same National Parks that I had visited. I was so impressed that I decided to buy three photographs. The seller was more than obliging. Together, we got the framed photographs ready to mail back to
Michigan. I would give the birch tree sunset one to my parents. The other two I would hang on my apartment wall. I paid $14. for the birch tree, and $60. more for the picture of a water droplet falling off a pine bough and the panoramic shot of Hawaii’s Waimea Canyon. That purchase was a little out of character for me, as it cut into my travel money, but I wasn’t charged tax and when I left, the kid said, “You just made my weekend.”

I didn’t need those photographs. I wanted them. For the first time in my life I had a place to put them and that made me feel good. I had no intention of abandoning my apartment. It was home. I had “roots” now, and those photographs were not only beautiful, they were reminders of the feelings I had had when I felt closest to nature—priceless feelings. If you can’t spend money on meaningful things, what good is it? Health is more important than money, and what is healthier than the beauty and bounty of nature, or at least in my case, the memories of it!

I’ve been giving my knee a rest for the last couple of days, but now I’m getting ready to leave this campground. By providing hiker biker campgrounds, California has been very good to me. If you walk or ride a bike into a campground you only have to pay fifty cents per night. California has always been on the leading edge of progressive thinking; now I know why John Mayall is always coming back here. Well its time to give my knee a whirl. Hopefully, it will hold up.

Begin Northwest Bicycle Trip And Michigan Return

December 8, 2007
209 magnify

Last week, my good friend Subra personalized his blog by posting his picture. So, following his lead, I am posting a relatively recent picture of me that was taken at a rally to protest George Bush’s invasion of Iraq and his continuing war on the U.S. Constitution.

Before She Left She Knew That I Wasn’t Into Stringing Along Heartache

May 19, 1980

Well, here I am, sitting on the John F. Kennedy University lawn, waiting for classes to start, Modern Philosophy to begin with. The trip from Michigan was good. After Jane contacted me (when she saw my name on the ride board back at school) we made arrangements for my ride out to California. She was on her way to the coast to visit friends, and my contribution for gas made it easier for her. She also liked the idea of having someone to travel with. Driving to California was a big deal for her, and a single girl traveling alone did present some legitimate concerns.

Jane may have been a crack shot on CMU’s women’s basketball team, but her preparation skills for the drive out to California were lacking. We left Mt. Pleasant in a rusted out ’72 Maverick. I had my doubts about whether or not we would get to California, especially after the problems with the rear end differential started. By the time we reached Modesto, where I said goodbye to Jane, the clunk, clunk was so noticeable that I gave her a 1 in 5 chance of making it to San Francisco, but I didn’t tell her that.

The highpoint of our trip to California was our twenty-four hour stay in Park City, Utah. Jane stopped to see her ski bum friends. The boys, Dan, Robin, and Kevin, lived to ski. What do a bunch of jocks do when they haven’t seen each other for a long time? Play basketball! So we all went down to the Salt Lake City Sport Coliseum to shoot some hoops, something I loved to do anyway. Unfortunately, I was out of shape. I was playing with superbly conditioned athletes. I was so out of breath from running up and down the court that I had nothing left to play the game. That was an eye opener for me. One should never take lightly his or her personal race with Father Time.

The other highlight of the trip was when we stopped in Paxton, Nebraska. I had been driving for a long time, so when I saw this small town saloon, I pulled over. The owner of the place was a big game hunter. He had his game trophies hanging all over the place. Actually, the place was more like a museum than a bar. I was not into killing animals for sport, but that place was impressive. Under each trophy was a written description of the kill. Admiring the memorabilia, it was impossible not to feel the intensity of the hunt. The guy who did all the hunting was the same old guy who handed me my beer. He was a proud old man. All he had left now, though, were his memories and the bar. I was lucky enough to buy him a beer before Jane and I headed out.

We ran into snow in Wyoming and more in Utah, but once we reached the salt flats, the weather warmed. It was nice after that, and when we arrived in Modesto, we stayed with more of Jane’s friends. In the morning, Todd gave me a twenty-minute ride up to Stockton and that’s where I started to bicycle north.

Expressways were everywhere, so I had to pick and choose my way up the coast. My first night out, I lost my way, and ended up sleeping in a field behind a pine tree, a field that separated two Walnut Creek homes—estates. I almost expected an upper class field to go along with the upper class neighborhood, but no luck there. I’ve picked out a similar place for tonight’s camp. It will be dark, so the chances of running into any “excuse me type encounters” should be minimal.

JFKU is a well-used Junior High School in the daytime and a university at night. It is impossible to be impressed with the building or grounds, but I’m not expecting much along those lines anyway. So far, most of the students I have observed have been in law, and they come across as aggressive and
competitive. I’m going to attend a philosophy class in about an hour and hopefully I will get a better feel for the students in my field of study. Tomorrow and Wednesday I will be attending classes in consciousness and mysticism. I hope to have enough experience after that, to make an informed judgment about the program. The law students are all marching off to take their exam now. The weather has been great. Time to change the subject.

Carin, now there’s a subject, well, not really. I’ve handled that one pretty well, but I am disturbed on one account. Did we waste our relationship on the expectation of knowing we would be saying good-bye to each other? I could definitely say no to that question during our relationship, but I’m not so sure now. I did not want it to end. I especially did not want it to end the way it did, as a fun trip, a “thanks for the memories trip.” Did we actually have a love affair? What did the relationship mean anyway—nothing? I’m sure that was not entirely the case, but I am just as sure that my anxiety in this area is well founded. For me, the value of love has not diminished. Love is still the most important experience possible. But now I am troubled. How much did I love her? How much could I love her?

Throughout our relationship I had to prepare psychologically for the end. Accepting the temporary quality of our relationship was, ironically, what kept us together for so long. Knowing she would be leaving did not prevent me from loving her. But deep down, I hoped, of her own free will, she would end up loving me enough to stay. She frequently told me she loved me, and I believed her, but those words did not mean the same thing coming from her as they did coming from me. I wanted Carin to love me, really love me. In fact, I kept hoping right up to the very end.

After she left, I treated her the way I treated all potentially painful experiences—I put as much distance between them and me as possible. In this case, I returned Cairn’s letters unopened, and disposed of all of the artifacts that she left behind in my apartment (except for the desk). Before she left, she knew I wasn’t into “stringing heartache along.” When I left South Dakota I kept nothing to remind me of Carole Sue, and she knew that. I have not heard from her since I sent back her third unopened letter, and, as far as I’m concerned, this journal entry is the last remnant of our relationship. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t.

I guess I feel better now. I’m not bitter. I hardly think of her anymore. She’s just something I don’t want to repeat. I admit, however, that bitterness is probably obvious in this journal entry, and once again, I am grateful for the writing process that purges unwanted feelings. I don’t feel bitter now!

If Spiritual Development Is What You’re After Then You’re In The Wrong Place

JFKU, Orinda, California

May 23, ‘80

First off, I like my new tent. It’s easy to put up, easy to carry, and gives every indication I will stay dry when necessary. I looks like, once again, you get what you pay for.

Okay, JFKU:

Modern Philosophy—taught by a very intelligent man, but he was not in tune with “awareness,” or even in tune with JFKU. I didn’t have to leave CMU (whoops, I just thought that last gust of wind was going to blow my tent down) to learn what was being taught in that class.

Prayer And Meditation—taught by a man who spent a year in a Chan Monastery; he encouraged dialogue in class (a dull dialogue). A psychologist wrote the book discussed in class. The Professor, in reply to a student’s question, said the most important thing that was said in class when he replied back to the student, “If spiritual development is what you’re after then you’re in the wrong place,” –meaning, I guess, that JFKU was a university not a monastery.

Two stray dogs just discovered my tent. A German Shepherd and a black Boxer were frolicking in the stream just below my tent when the Shepherd decided to stick his head inside my unzipped tent screen. Upon a friendly greeting from me, I was hard pressed to keep the dogs out of my tent. That was a pleasant distraction, but now, in addition to my own smelly body, my tent is full of swampy dog odor.

Where was I? The first thing I did upon arriving at JFKU was to pay a visit to the bookstore. I was disappointed in the lack of scholarly books. I checked out all three of the programs and I was not impressed with any of the required readings.

Time for one more tortilla potato salad sandwich. That was good– just the right amount of Tabasco.

Mystic Vision—an okay class. The instructor was more than prepared and the material presented was interesting. There were more than 40 students in the class, the largest class yet, and they were involved. The only prob
lem I had with the class was that the instructor said some things that didn’t jive with what I already knew. Case in point being when the instructor said there was a four day attachment to the physical plane after death as opposed to the much longer period of the Bardo Thodo’s astral time as recorded in the Tibetan Book Of The Dead. There’s nothing wrong with teaching inconsistencies, especially since there’s no verification method in place to begin with. It’s just that I couldn’t help but visualize myself as a JFKU student, concentrating on every detail just so I could regurgitate them back on an exam in order to get a good grade. That was not what I wanted from JFKU.

Spiritual Psychology And Nature Of Being—the most controversial of the classes I attended. I’m still not sure how I feel about the class. The class was in the Department of Transpersonal Counseling, and the professor called the methods he was teaching Buddhist Psychology. The professor exuded a dominating presence in the classroom and, in his teaching of the Mahayana/Theravada Buddhist distinction, he contradicted the professor in the Meditation and Prayer class who taught the same material. It would be difficult for me to attend a university where each instructor dictated the class’s subject matter and content according to his or her own prejudices and biases.

The telling quality of this particular class became evident when a student volunteered his own experience of loneliness as an object for Buddhist psychological analysis. The Professor, without even a smidgen of empathy, proceeded to critically evaluate the student’s “feelings of loneliness.” The student let it be known that he was not impressed with the evaluation, but the Professor seemed very pleased with himself. The Professor, as if to bolster his case, compared his methods of analysis to the methods used in the teachings of EST. When he said that, what little I knew about EST was confirmed, as was my distaste for this Professor. EST was an esoteric school of thought that believed in breaking down a sick person’s inhibitions by directing challenges at the individual in hopes of extricating a cure. The challenges, more often than not, fell into the category of personal ridicule. As far as I was concerned that was not education, and I certainly was not going to pay to be a part of it.

After that class, I had pretty much made up my mind not to attend JFKU, but I still wanted to talk with the head of the Consciousness and Mysticism Department. Hatha Surrender was a very nice soft-spoken young man. He was dressed in white and had penetrating blue eyes. I told him I liked what was going on at JFKU, but I wouldn’t be able to attend just yet. I was being polite. What I was really thinking was that I had my own university to attend, and between the two of them there was no comparison. CMU paid me to go to school!

In All These Spiritual Teachings We Hear The Echo Of The “Outside” And “Inside” Becoming One

December 1, 2007

333 magnify

Upanishads, Bhagavad-Gita, Buddhist Awakening-It’s All About Absolute Freedom

The Hindu Class Essay Concluded

Well that’s about all I have to say about Uddalaka and Yajnavalkya. I do have a few more observations, though. In lieu of our past conversations, it seems to me that something is going on here that needs more attention. I can’t help but feel that I’m in the middle of that “elephant thing.” You know, where one blind guy holds the trunk, and the other blind guys hold the leg and tail, respectively. They all “see” an entirely different animal, but what they’re really “seeing” is just one big elephant.

Paraphrasing from Hopkin’s descriptions of Brahman, consider the following: The ancient sages of India perceived no chasm between nature, humanity, and divinity. For the wise among them, all existence was the manifestation of the universal principle—Brahman, the source of all being, the producer and sustainer of all reality. Brahman was the eternal that created the temporal; it was the uncountable waves of an incomprehensible ocean.

In Nishitani’s Mahayana Buddhism (and Nishida, his teacher), something quite similar to the “Brahman idea” is going on. For instance, just as when Yajnavalkya found at the seat of free will, atman, Nishitani, put absolute freedom at the core of self. For Nishitani, free will emerged from and returned to, absolute nothingness. On the surface, absolute nothingness and Brahman appear to be opposites—empty and full. But are they really?

Brahman, the Absolute, is beyond all categories of time, space, and causality. In short, it has no measure other than the fact that it transcends all measure. Yet, if we believe the sages, Brahman can be realized and therefore experienced. Nishitani’s absolute nothingness, like Brahman, permeates all things. If the “ripples of Brahman” vanish back into the “timeless, spaceless, and causeless ocean of Brahman,” then how is that any different from Nishitani’s nothingness that permeates all things? In the reciprocal case the same holds true. Waves exist because of the ocean—Brahman. All things depend on nothingness for their existence—Nishitani. Where’s the difference?

The sages in the Upanishads (as does the Buddha) call for the eradication of all ignorance. We are told that when ignorance is dispelled, “the infinitely great outside of us becomes the infinitely great within us,” which is another way of saying that our inner self, atman, merges with our outer self, Brahman. In the Buddhist philosophy of Nishida’s self-awakening, we hear pretty much the same refrain. He says, “When the ego awakens to its radical finitude–its nothingness, realization occurs.” In all these spiritual teachings we hear the echo of the “outside” and “inside” becoming one. Again, “at the point of total openness and freedom,” says Nishida, “the self is no longer separate from, but realizes its oneness with all the myriad things of the universe.” When the ego realizes the illusion of its “I,” “me,” “mine,” identity, and stops seeing itself as an independent entity, it looks straight through itself and sees “wholeness.” The realization that atman equals enlightenment, the realization that “nothingness of self” equals enlightenment. Are we really talking about two different things here? In the Chandogya Upanisad, we hear once again, –upon the realization of atman, “the formed and the unformed, the mortal and the immortal, the abiding and the fleeting, the being and the beyond” all become one with Brahman. In the absolute nothingness of self, says Nishitani, “you find the convergence of opposites—self and non self, being and nonbeing, the personal and the impersonal, the unique and the universal.” How often do we have to hear this refrain before the connection becomes obvious? In Brahman, we find the realization of the unity of reality. In the “nothingness of the self,” according to Nishitani, we find the dissolution of “all contradictions of the world, such as inside and outside, one and all, evil and good.” In the yogi’s “moksha,” and the Buddha’s “nirvana,” enlightened experience all, where is the difference? Maybe it– the difference– lies in getting there.

The Upanishads teach that liberation will not be found “in outward movement into the world.” It is the inward journey into the self that permits liberation. According to the teachings of the Upanishads, it is the longing for meaning and purpose, plus a desire to end human restlessness that leads a person down the path toward enlightenment.

The Bhagavad-Gita, gives us another approach to liberation. “He who knows Atman overcomes sorrow,” and here, overcoming sorrow means practicing yoga. The Gita tells us that the final liberation, the state where the self-imposed boundaries of individuality are transcended, is the goal of yoga. In the Upanishad’s the yogi is called away from society, but in the Gita, in order to progress spiritually, the aspirant is called to duty, in honor of society. The practices of Karma Yoga and/or Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of duty and love, respectively), if done whole-heartedly, bring liberation. In the Bhagavad-Gita the god, Kishna, told Arjuna, the warrior prince, that his “jiva self,” his mind-body self, was not his atman. But, if he did his duty, if he met the Pandavas, his cousins, on the battlefield (while remaining unattached to the “fruits” of his actions), then he would realize his atman and win release (moksha). It was no longer necessary, taught the Gita, to renounce the world
to achieve Brahman. It should be noted that although the Gita emphases the practice of Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga, it was not critical of other forms of yoga, e.g., Hatha, Laya, Raja, etc. In that regard, its teachings remained consistent with the earlier Upanishadic teachings.

To the best of my knowledge, yoga was not a necessary part of the Buddhist tradition. To attain nirvana, the practices of disciplines, both mental and physical, were necessary, however. All dharma’s led to the eightfold path, the last of the Buddha’s four noble truths. In addition to “right knowledge,” the eightfold path called for ethical behavior and meditative disciplines. Although some would argue that the concepts of permanence and immortality were anathemas to the Buddha, when it came to self-realization, the rejection of illusion, the elimination of cravings, and the avoidance of narcissistic preoccupations, the teachings of the Buddha were quite similar to their Upanishad counterparts. But something else of interest brings these two traditions together, something not generally talked about.

Brahman, as the innermost essence of reality and the cause of all diversity, is the source and ground of being, yet it stands absolutely transcendent to being. As the vitality of the cosmos, Brahman’s dynamic self-expression is an affirmation of the Absolute manifested in both the individual and the world. For the sage, the claim that Brahman and atman are one is an identity claim, but, at the same time, Brahman remains the ground of being while being transcendent to being. How can this be? The enlightened look to the self, to others, and to the whole universe and rejoice in Brahman—“Tat tvam asi (That art thou).” But what is “thou?” For the most part, in both Hinduism and Buddhism, “thou” is left as a paradox. It is not within the grasp of language, but it is not out of reach of the self, either. The comprehension of self (atman in Hinduism, not-self in Buddhism) implies the comprehension of the universe as a whole—moksha in Hinduism, nirvana in Buddhism. Knowledge and being are identical here, and, I believe, by taking a closer look at Nishida’s self-awakening philosophy, we will better understand why this is so.

Nishida went looking for “pure experience” and found it. In a pure awakened state there is no distinction between transcendence, immanence, and freedom. The “absolute free will,” for Nishida, is at the center of the creative world and lives through the “pulse of creative nothingness.” He used his own logic to characterize this claim. To be fair, Nishida did not think of this logic in an analytical sense, it was more a logic of existence. He called this logic basho, and for me at least, this basho seems to be describing three different levels of interconnectivity—the interconnectivity of three different pulses of freedom.

Freedom is not a manifestation of being, it is the other way around; out of creative nothingness arises the manifestation of being. According to Nishida, everything that is, is within the interconnectivity of the basho, and is at bottom, the basho of “absolute nothingness.” In all bashos a dual purpose is at work. As the ground of everything, the logic of basho, works to support and restrict all beings. Absolute nothingness becomes the heart and soul of all beings, but tied to this basho is an invisible basho, the basho of relative nothingness. “It,” says Nishida, “exists only in relation to the basho of being. It is the idea that nothingness is understood in terms of its opposite: the notion of being.” Interconnected with all bashos– relative nothingness, being, and absolute nothingness—is the pulsing, creative nothingness that emerges from and returns to the basho of absolute nothingness. I’m trying to understand this. I’m not there yet. Here is a description of Nishida’s basho as stated by Masaaki:

Nishida defines basho as “a predicate of predicates,” a truly universal, transcendent “place” in which subject and predicate are mutually inclusive. Only the basho of “absolute nothingness” is truly transcendent and truly universal. It is the place where the authentic self turns around and becomes the “self without self.” That means that the “self as the basho” can reflect objects just as they are by truly emptying itself, and can see things “by becoming things.” Thus the self as basho identifies itself with all beings in the absolute contradictory mode of the world.

In this vision, we get a “feel” for how to resolve the paradox—the paradox of how something–pure experience–can be both the source and ground of being while at the same time been absolutely transcendent. The being and the beyond distinctions that are present in the Hindu and Buddhist distinctions of the Brahman/atman, self/not-self, are dissolved in Nishida’s basho. “When self-consciousness is completely extinguished in the basho” says Nishida, “then the newborn ‘self as the basho,’ embodying the ‘unifying force’ of absolute nothingness from within, can fully exert its intrinsic nature as instrument to become a creative force in the world.” In the all-inclusive interconnectivity of Nishida’s basho, distinctions like inside/outside, whole/part, cease to be meaningful.

It seems to me at least, according to what I am trying to understand form the above, when everything is seen in full relief “just as it is,” in its suchness, there is an awakening. When all beings are seen reflected in the absolute creative nothingness of the basho, there is an awakening. In the experience of the absolute interpenetration of nothingness with all the particular existents in the universe, there is an awakening to the “eternal now.” There, the distinctions Brahman/atman, self/not-self, have no place. There, the newborn “self as the basho,” “self as absolute nothingness,’’ wakes to perfect freedom, perfect wisdom and perfect bliss. The fact that language will not (can not) permit a description of “enlightened being,” hasn’t made the paradox any less paradoxical. It’s still there, with or without language. I admire Nishida because of his struggles to get beyond that paradox. However, I suspect that enlightenment—pure experience—is necessary before “empty” and “full” can become one, before nirvana and moksha can become one!