Help a sick parrot
Formore information see the post Help a sick Parrot
I love my best friend, but I don’t always agree with her. Recently, she’s been meandering through yoga in search of the spiritual. After she speculated that my recent cancer was the result of some terrible karma, we’ve had a friendly debate over the idea of karma.
Causality is not invertible. Rain may cause me to open an umbrella, but opening an umbrella will not cause it to rain. While it is rational to state that any action one takes will have consequences (though not necessarily just consequences), it is not rational to state that any phenomenon one observes is the consequence of someone’s prior action. A phenomenon could be the consequence of someone’s actions — or it might be the consequence of someone else’s actions, or a natural phenomenon set in motion by impersonal physical laws, or a purely random event. Or it may have so many causes it’s impossible to identify any one of them as the cause. Without additional information, the cause of any phenomenon is underdetermined.
The idea that whatever happens is a consequence of karma is not a priori truth. It’s a religious belief. It is no more or less rational than a belief in the return of the twelfth imam, or that bread and wine become flesh and blood. I’ve noticed that believers in karma often take pride (in the worst sense of the word) in the rationality of their belief. Their confidence in their intellectual superiority is unfounded.
Lets return for a moment to what my best friend said. She told me, in essence, that I deserved to have cancer. I don’t hold it against her — I know she is a caring person who has gotten caught up in some dubious beliefs, and I’m not all that broken up about having cancer (I could think of an infinity of things I’d rather do, but, things happen). Still: telling someone with cancer that they deserve it is the behavior of an asshole.
She also passed judgement upon me based upon a religious belief about a past no one can indisputably remember and for which there is, and probably cannot be, any certain evidence. For me the biggest problems with reincarnation as a concept are that, first, it attributes durability to the illusion we call the ego, and second, it attributes far too much substance to the illusion we call time. It feels like a hypothesis manufactured to reassure people terrified of the spiritual that, really, everything stays satisfyingly mundane throughout eternity. I know from experience that sometimes, one gets a glimpse of information that one “ought not” to be able to access, and I’m willing to concede that a kind of quasi-reincarnation might exist, where someone may have insight into information and experiences from what we call the past, so much so that they identify with a past individual. But I don’t think a conventional belief in reincarnation is consistent with the illusory nature of the ego or with the eternal now.
It’s a moral imperative to, where appropriate, judge others according to widely shared ethical beliefs (certain ethical principles are so universal as to be found even among animals). But to judge and condemn, according to the articles of faith of your religion, those who do not share your beliefs and who have not solicited your opinion, is also the act of an asshole. Pronouncing someone’s karma to be bad is no different in kind from the behavior of Christians who picket funerals with signs declaring “God hates fags”.
I’ve seen much less caring persons than my friend wield their faith in karma like a weapon against anyone who appears to them to be less fortunate than themselves, or to bolster their sense of superiority over another whether or not the other person is in any real sense less fortunate. It’s always possible to find something about another person to dismiss as “bad karma”, even when the person with the “bad karma” doesn’t see it as a negative, and even when as is so often the case, something which appears at first glance to be misfortune turns out to have been an opportunity.
Of course, lots of ideas are exploited by uncaring individuals to make themselves look good. The problem with karma is that it encourages caring individuals, like my friend, to behave badly, too.
The worst thing about the idea of karma is that it asserts that the world we live in, right now, is a just world, the best of all possible worlds. The many who suffer, deserve it, the few who live by exploiting the many are simply reaping the deserved rewards of an eternity of right living. When someone appears to get away with wrongdoing, not to worry — they’ll get their due in some future life.
If this really is the best possible world, does it not follow that we should cease to try to improve on it? Doesn’t it follow that what we ought to do is throw our support behind the rich and the powerful, and ignore, perhaps even persecute, the oppressed? Logically, in such a worldview, African Americans are discriminated against because they are wrongdoers, women are paid less than men because they earned that status in a past life, and children who lose their limbs by stepping on a land mine are the real problem — not the use and abandonment of land mines and cluster bombs. Shouldn’t we cheer on the anopheles mosquito, rather than distribute mosquito nets? And wouldn’t it be most humane to torture unwanted pets to death, rather than adopt them out, so that they can most quickly resolve their karmic issues?
I’d like to say what I just wrote was utter hyperbole, that no one could or would think that way. But karma is perhaps the next-to-last refuge of scoundrels. I have seen and heard countless instances where karma was invoked by believers to justify supporting the status quo and doing nothing to aid others in need. The philosopher Paul Edwards, in his book Reincarnation, likens the belief in karma with Social Darwinism. Both pretend to be natural law, when they are not. Both are post hoc explanations. Both lead inevitably to unethical behavior.
I am much more comfortable with accepting that, just as it appears to be, injustice exists. Only by accepting that this is not a just world do we have the power to act to create justice.
A week and a half ago, Peri went into severe respiratory distress. The vet told me there was nothing he could do for her. I was going to give her every chance to survive, but honestly, I didn’t see how she could survive the night.
Then I didn’t think she would survive the next day.
Then I was sure she would pass in the night.
She lost the ability to eat. I tried to keep her comfortable by feeding her weak herb tea with plenty of sugar.
Somehow, she survived on that for a day. Then another day. Then I was sure she would not make it through the stress of my leaving for a medical appointment in another state. When I got home, she was still alive — weak, leaning against the cage for support in front of the heat lamp, eyes closed and head resting on her back — but alive.
Then something funny happened. She began to have little spurts of energy, moments of spunk where she would fight me, for example, over changing the water in her cage. And then she started to play, just a little bit. And she even started to squawk her displeasure if I said anything about her dying (do not ever underestimate a parrot’s receptive language skills. I’m certain she understood what I was saying. She usually does when she weighs in on a conversation like that).
Finally, five days after she was supposed to be dead, I looked at her and said “everybody figured you were dying, but nobody ran it past you to see if you agreed, did they? If you’re still alive tomorrow, I’m calling the vet and telling him we need a plan B”.
Peri is eating like mad now. (Poor bird is on prednisone. As an asthmatic I empathize with her plight: a world full of bird food, but just one crop to stuff it all in). She is playing and raising hell and sometimes even driving me to the brink, just like a parrot should. She’s still not well. She spends a portion of her day napping, eyes closed, head on her back, as sick birds do. But she is anything but dead.
This is not the first time the Iron Parrot has survived what would kill any other bird. Before I knew her, she had somehow pulled a claw clean off her foot, an accident that often ends with a bird bleeding out. She was starved to an inch of her life (which is where I came in. I am told she had already been eating for about a week when I first saw her, and she was skinny and weak and barely able to stand when I met her). I had to nurse her through two days of hell during an eggbinding incident until I could get her to a doctor (eggbinding often kills within hours).
And now, this. Peri is a bird, but she has at least nine lives.
Every now and then, I look at that small half-naked bundle of skin and feathers, that fragile-looking whisp on a perch, and I peer into her beady black eyes, and I see the toughest, fiercest, most life-filled soul on this planet. And, I am awestruck.Continue Reading...
The controversy over the observations I and a friend made about an Eckhart Tolle video — in particular an otherwise ridiculous comment about the name of this blog — got me to thinking: what do I mean by “hard core” spirituality. I had an intuitive sense of it as something having to do with having one’s feet on the ground, something that wasn’t escapist or self-centered, something not afraid of pain or sacrifice. I knew what it was when I saw it, and what it wasn’t when I saw that, too, but I thought (mostly in passing) that it was too nuanced a concept for a simple definition. I was wrong.
When I really started to think about what it was that I meant, I realized it had an elementary definition so simple and obvious it had been hiding in plain sight. What I mean when I say “hard core” spirituality, I mean spirituality founded in love. That’s it. That’s the definition, precisely.
The absence of love is precisely what I criticize when I criticize spirituality built around mechanical practices (breathing methods, meditation on chakras, etc.) whose purpose it is to provide its practitioner with private altered states of conciousness. It’s what’s missing among the many gurus for hire, for whom the most important quality in a student is the size of his or her bank account. It’s what you don’t see in the ornate spiritual fantasies of space aliens, channeling, crystals, and magic calendar dates. You won’t find love among the urban shamans whose ideas of spirituality consist of consuming substances and writing trip reports. You absolutely will not find anything that looks like love — not even a mild awareness that one is a member of a social species towards which one has obligations — in the ideas of those who think that wishing and hoping for more stuff is spiritual.
How can I say this when many people who engage in practices I criticize speak of love and compassion? Its this: when they speak of love and compassion, they mean by that feelings of sentimentality. They confuse their private emotional states with love, when love is not a feeling or emotion or anything private at all. It is not even action driven by maudlin feelings.
Love is something more potent. It is a deep intention indistinguishable from being and inseparable from action. To discover love in onself is to uncover something much more extraordinary than a feeling.
How does one find this hard core of spirituality? I could say, somewhat truthfully, that one quiets oneself and looks inside. I might even try to describe some method or technique for doing this. I could again, with some degree of accuracy, speak of the unity of all being and entice the listener with tales of utter bliss. And if I said that, I would dispense the sort of useless advice every charlatan knows how to dispense.
Looking inward is the easy part. If you really want to do so, if it has grabbed your attention, its not that hard. Take a few breaths, let your feelings guide you into a suitable posture, and there you are. Techniques of meditation, if that’s what you want to call such a natural, intuitively self-evident, act, have in my observation never been anyone’s obstacle to any amount or depth or intensity of looking inward. The real obstacle is the price of doing so.
When I told my story earlier in this blog, it was of significance not because it was exceptional. It isn’t. My story is interesting because it is, minus the particulars, typical to the point of cliche for a mystic.
We even have names and descriptive phrases for the acts of this real-life drama, terms known to nearly every literate person. The “hero’s journey” is one of them. So too is “dark night of the soul”, a phrase taken from the title of a book written by a mystic about the mystical path. We all know the plotline of spiritual development in our bones, and whether or not we wish to admit to our knowledge, we know it entails nearly unbearable loss, isolation, and battles with our greatest inner demons, culminating in, to all appearances, confrontation with death itself. We know that there is a storyline like that waiting for us, in the shadows, whenever we should take up the script.
This life that awaits us terrorizes us, and at the same time its seductions, of knowing, of being, of Love, entice us. For most of us most of the time we cannot say no to its seduction, yet we cannot say yes to its sacrifice. So we engage in superficial spirituality (perhaps openly, or perhaps covertly, as I did with science and philosophy). We embrace in earnest dogma, we concern ourselves with ritual and technique, and we substitute sentimental acts of public charity for love. We pretend to ourselves that this path of sacrifice doesn’t exist at all, or that it is a path for extraordinary people, something for saints and ancient souls of the purest karma to do (and, I suppose in light of my story, for homicidal maniacs as well).
No, it isn’t technique that holds us back, and it isn’t purity of character. It isn’t even not knowing what to do.
So I guess a subtitle of this blog could be “Shit, or get off the pot”. Summon your courage (or desperation, which is often the same thing). Go wrestle with your terrors. Make the commitment to love, living and acting love in all things, understanding that none of this is ever about yourself. Embrace loss as the whetstone of love. Or stop pretending to yourself that your search for private comfort is spiritual, when it is nearly its mockery.
I am not sure how long my parrot is for this world. She had a crisis where I thought I would lose her the other day (the vet who examined her did not think she would make it overnight). Then she revived a bit, but today is refusing food. I have seen this bird survive what no bird ought to have survived, and so even now cannot count her out, but I’m not optimistic. I’m going to do whatever I can to make her comfortable (and to give her that chance to survive, if she can take it).
I am almost certainly much longer for this world. But I have been diagnosed with cancer recently. The cancer appears to be cureable. I’m dealing with appointment after appointment now, and its much harder for me to get to what I ought to be doing. If I owe you a package, I haven’t forgotten — it’s in the pile of packages I intended to send out last week. If you comment and it isn’t approved right away, do not assume “censorship” (unless your comment consisted of random ethnic slurs and exhortations to buy counterfiet handbags, in which case damned right its censorship). Instead, assume I’m trussed up with a radium needle in my nether regions, or something of that ilk.Continue Reading...
As followers of this blog know, I do everything I reasonably can to keep money from mixing with this blog. But there are exceptions to nearly every rule, and the biggest of all exceptions is to preserve life.
I live with a rescue parrot, Peri, who before her confiscation by the police a few years ago had been brutally starved and abused. When she was brought to me four years ago by a rescue group, she was so weak she could barely stand. Neither I nor the people who brought her to me thought she had long to live. I thought at that time that my task would be to make her last days as good for her as I could. But Peri is a tough little bird. Though she continues to suffer from the terror inflicted on her in the past, four years on she is alive and sitting on a perch to my left.
She hadn’t been looking well lately, and so this past Tuesday, I brought her to the vet. The vet called me the next day with the test results: Peri has active hepatitis.
I am determined to do everything in my capacity to to give her yet another fighting chance. She never deserved to be treated as she once had been by some sorry excuse for humanity. We as a species owe it to her. But even if I economize drastically, I still can’t afford the level of vet care she deserves.
That’s why I’m asking for donations — anything you can afford, even a few dollars.
If you don’t want to donate money, you can always buy prayer beads from my shop. If you want the proceeeds to go to Peri, it would be best that you do not select Amazon Payments. Normally that would be fine, but they hold the money for a few weeks, and I’ve never been able to withdraw the funds except as Amazon gift cards, none of which will help with the immediate vet bills.
If you are feeling adventurous, right here you can buy “Help heal Peri” prayer beads. I’ll make you a mala, tasbih, chotki, or rosary, with whatever beads and other parts I have in abundance, for $15.00 plus $3.00 shipping.
For those who feel they must verify my story, Peri’s vet is Dr. Elizabeth Miquel at Essex Vet Center (about whom I cannot say enough: if you are in Vermont and you want a fantastic vet, you will not be disappointed).
I’m not a fan of the idea that life is intended to teach “lessons”. Of course we do, or at least we ought to, learn from what happens to us. No one can dispute that. What I dispute is the idea that life is some sort of classroom, in which everything that occurs is part of a cosmic curriculum. I don’t like the notion that we are living in God’s Coursera for many reasons.
The idea suggests that our existence is inauthentic, that it is just some rehearsal for some other, more real, existence. If ever anyone were to put a gun to my head and demand that I that produce just one phrase to describe an unillumined state of mind, the phrase would be “inauthentic cognition”. Most people run about, most of the time, interacting, not with the world, but with their ideas about the world. In their minds, nothing is what it is. Everything is what it represents. Whatever it represents is itself merely a representation of something else, and so on. Actual reality lies somewhere at the end of a long tunnel of mere representation, far beyond the thinker’s perception. Life-as-a-lesson is a part of this chain of misthinking.
The idea is also an unnecessary bit of complexity. It doesn’t explain anything that can’t as easily be accounted for by assuming that what we experience is authentically what it is, and not part of a grand intentional scheme. Ideas are most clear when they are pared down to their essentials. If you don’t need the notion of the cosmic classroom in order to explain both observable physical phenomenon and to construct a spiritual metaphysics, doesn’t that mean its just cloudy thinking?
I also object to the idea that life experiences are lessons because the idea is used to obfuscate evil, and to place blame for injustices onto the shoulders of the victims of injustice, instead of its perpetrators. Something bad happen to you? Well, that’s just a lesson you need to learn. Are you suffering because wealthy sociopaths have crashed the economy and stolen everything not nailed down, or because some imperialist nation state has invaded your homeland (or pressured you or your loved ones to serve as cannon fodder for the invasion)? Don’t complain, don’t protest, don’t act outwardly towards causes you find outside of yourself: instead, learn your spiritual lesson. Are you being abused? Have you been robbed, or raped, or physically injured? If you had learned your spiritual lessons, surely this wouldn’t have happened. Don’t blame the perpetrator who chose to harm others. Blame yourself, who chose to live an ordinary and peaceful life that day, but got nothing of the sort.
Any idea that works to obscure and justify evil is itself evil.
On the other hand what happens if you embrace the idea that what happens is authentically what it is, entirely itself, representing nothing and having no hidden function? Then the sand I just rubbed from my eye, gritty as it rolled down my eyelid, is an authentic life experience. The ridges of my fingertip too was real experience as was the twinge of arthritic pain in my wrist. The strand of hair lying out of place on my forehead as I type this — its real, too, and not a representation of anything, or anything which serves any function except to exist as it is. When I see someone harmed by another, the compassion I feel for those harmed is unsullied by thoughts of how they must have deserved it or needed it, as is the anger I feel towards the perpetrators, and I feel alive in my discomfort and powerful in my responses to it. There are no instances in history of injustice remedied through learning life lessons, but there are countless examples of injustice mitigated, transformed, or ended by people who felt the pain of injustice, correctly placed blame, and who acted outwardly to alter the circumstances. What you get when you assume life is what it is, is an understanding of the imminence of That which Is what It Is, of Being itself.
What you get when you assume life is simply what it is, without meaning or purpose, is life, fully and powerfully lived. There is no comparison with the false comforts of thinking that life is a lesson, standing for something else.Continue Reading...
Yes, I said you “can’t” sell spirituality, not “shouldn’t.” You can’t sell what you don’t have, and if you are selling spirituality, you don’t have any to sell.
You can’t sell spirituality because first and foremost spirit is infinite Love, pulsating with the forces of Creation. If you have spiritual insight, you must, to some degree, be a conscious participant in this infinite pulse of Creative Love. If you aren’t, you can’t point anyone towards it except by happenstance, and you are delusional or a fraud. And if you love fiercely, you do not look upon the suffering, confusion, and weariness of your beloved and say “Oh beloved, let me help you — for a price”.
No, what you do is you act out of Love. Your acts are not limited to sitting on a pedestal dispensing advice to others on how they should love. You serve those you love, in every reasonable way, including all the dirty work that fraudulent teachers think is well below them. You feed, you clothe, you comfort the lonely, you put Bandaids on and you take your jacket off and hand it to someone who is cold. You do whatever you can, whenever you can, wherever you can, and what you do is in no way separate from your life. You serve because it is the nature of the lover to serve the beloved.
People who make excuses as to why fraudulent gurus have to be treated as rock stars don’t see what it really means to be enlightened. They imagine that service (if they recognize the value of service at all) is merely a tool to break down ego. Service is for students, the way arithmetic worksheets are for grade schoolers. Status, power, wealth, isolation from those who suffer, even freedom to violate normal rules of ethical conduct, are privileges a guru has earned as a result of their personal spiritual accomplishments.
That’s not right. Enlightenment is a state of transparency to that passionate, creative, and unconfined Love. It is surrender to love in action, which is eternal service. It has no course with status, power, wealth, and certainly not with being set apart physically or morally. It is not the end of the need for humility — it is its utter incorporation. If you understand this, then the frauds are easy to spot.
Love alone would be reason enough never to sell spirituality. But there’s another argument, an intellectual property argument. Who owns spiritual information? Information we call “spiritual” is either an attribute of Being, and thus not the legal (or moral) property of anyone, or it is something someone made up (i.e., it is either mistaken or fraudulent, if presented as an attribute of Being). No one owns authentic spiritual information. We live in a world which would sell the sky, if it could, and so the position that it is unethical to sell what one cannot ethically own may be an unfamiliar one. But since I can no more claim ownership of what I share than I can claim ownership of the molecules of air I last exhaled, I can sell neither.
Someone, somewhere, reading this is probably constructing a straw man argument. “Surely if my guru gave away all his books, he would go bankrupt, and then the teachings would not help anyone!” Love is not a rule for the rule bound, obligating all who love to be irredeemably stupid. Love is the creative principle. It’s not just adaptable and reasonable, it’s Adaptable and Reasonable. Surely one can charge for the paper and the binding without making a fortune and without making a purchase the only way to get the same content. If your guru’s publisher objects to making a book freely downloadable, it’s because your guru chose to sign a for-profit book deal, not because there is no other way to distribute a book in the 21st century.
The same goes for the arguments about light and heat and rent and transportation. While no one charges their beloved the price of their love, I’ve never known anyone to have ethical scruples over nudging their beloved and asking for some loose change at a highway tollbooth.
But all this is a distraction: the fabulous sums of money pulled in by alleged spiritual teachers are not being used to further their teachings. The fabulous sums of money pulled in by the guru industry goes to the guru CEOs for their private material enjoyment. And that is what the gurus of the guru industry do. They indulge their material whims, in fabulous houses and yachts and private jets and automobile collections and fine art and fine food and wine and all the other accoutrements of the wealthy who seek material pleasures to fill the vacancies in their souls.
Again, we’re not talking about straw man arguments that would have gurus dying by the droves on the side of the road of starvation because they are not permitted to accept so much as a bologna sandwich. If the sorts of gurus of which I speak were people who supported themselves modestly through donations and minimal fees, keeping their feet planted in Love and their eyes on their work, I would have nothing to say. That’s not what they are doing. They are living, not the life of those who love, but the lifestyle of those who grasp and want more.
That last point is, on more than one level, the real story behind these dealers in a product they do not have. They sell a simulated spirituality that affirms everything about greed that many millennia of spiritual traditions (and a few millennia of basic mathematics (also here)) have rejected. They sell it to people who have lots of stuff they got by exploiting others and who want to ease their guilt. Or they sell it to people who have a little stuff, want more stuff, and who can be easily sold any snake oil labeled “The Secret of more stuff!“.
But worst of all — and it is these next people who most concern me — they sell their message to desperate people. These faux gurus sell lies to people teetering on the brink of a disaster far worse than even their own fears can imagine, who bankrupt themselves at their guru’s direction.
I know that popular gurus make it amply clear that they believe poor people are poor because they are spiritually inferior. I have seen this, more than once. The bhikku forswears even to touch money, and the West follows a homeless carpenter who died, rejected by most of his friends, at the wrong end of Death Row. But these gurus find shame in poverty, and everything to admire in wealth, power, and privilege. I know that some of these gurus advise their poor followers to put aside prudence, forswear planning, and spend their last dollars as if they had an unlimited supply of cash — preferably on a luxury item or, best of all, on something for or from the guru. Such an act of recklessness is, the gurus say, a poor person’s one real hope of demonstrating prosperity. Spend the rent money, they say, and more will come.
I also recall that the average life expectancy of a homeless woman living on the streets in America is six months. I can find no spiritual fault in such a woman. I can’t say as much for what I find in gurus who lead them to their deaths.
Eckhart Tolle is not, I agree, as horrible as Rhonda Byrne and others in this regard. It’s why I’ve spent many posts criticizing The Secret, and, until today, exactly one post taking aim at Tolle. He isn’t innocent. He peddles spirituality, recites a lot of words, few of which he understands (mostly the words “a”, “an”, “the”, and “this”, as far as I can tell). He, at times, strongly implies that if poor people would only change their consciousness they’d get more goodies out of life. He insists his followers not judge when judgement is a moral imperative. He makes plainly false claims about himself, his motivations, and his capacities. He is not profound, let alone unique. His presence has no more power than anyone else’s presence. His supposedly clear and simple explanations are a mix of buzzwords and bad philosophy, with just enough pretend mystery to let his followers fill in the gaps with their own imagination.
This is the same process by which people who know each other only from a few hours in a chatroom on the net can convince themselves that they are soulmates. Eckhart Tolle’s profundity is Kumare’s profundity, except that Kumare/Vikram Gandhi was much more honest in his purpose, his teachings, and in the end with his identity. Kumare is also a much cheaper fake guru to follow.
Real spirituality is and remains a heroic inner quest paired with a courageous life of service. The world’s fake gurus, East and West alike, don’t have it. What they sell for a sometimes lethal price is poison. I will continue to engage in that most spiritual act of passing judgement on frauds, in the hope that my words may spare a victim or two from the nightmares these greedy, grasping, people create.Continue Reading...
You’ll need to re-register on this blog. This site was hit hard by the wave of botnet attacks just as I was moving it to a bigger, better vps. I was caught without as much security in place as I’d like, a plugin that had been identified as vulnerable (that very day) was enabled, I found a funny entry in a mail config file, and my intrusion detection was e-mailing me suspicious log entries so often that my email client sounded like it was playing a game of pinball with itself. Oh — and the blog was covered in spam even though I had it set so that no one could comment.
Suffice to say it was time to rip everything down and rebuild it, minus the vulnerabilities.
For security reasons I cannot restore the userlist. As visitors who would be vulnerable to malware planted on this site, I think that you, too, would rather visit a cleaned up, locked down blog . Making everyone register again is the lesser of an assortment of potential evils. If you have commented here before and would like to reclaim your comments, let me know your current username, where your comment(s) appear on this site, and under what nickname you would like your comments to be identified.
I am running a self-signed certificate, which means that when you try to register you will get a security warning from your browser, letting you know that I issued my own SSL certificate (i.e., no proper certificate authority verified that I am indeed myself). This will change when I install a real ssl certificate from Comodo. In the interim, my self-signed certificate is plenty secure enough for blog registration and login, and requiring SSL during login will protect your password from being stolen.Continue Reading...
I’ve been getting hammered by hackers/spammers, and suspect I’ve been rooted (I found a peculiar entry in my postfix config files, which tells me it’s cleanup and lockdown time). Once I get things secure I’ll move back to a self hosted blog.
It is likely I will lose all of my user records, so be prepared to make yourself a new account.Continue Reading...
This is in part a continuation of my reply to the last comment.
I’m not a “guru” in the stereotypical sense of the word. I don’t jet around the world in fancy robes making appearances, and I don’t earn cash for smooth-spoken trash. I couldn’t lay claim to divinity without either giggling, or throwing up. If worshipped, I promise to run away. I have no secret teaching and no special initiation to offer or withhold.
But there’s another, not so off-kilter grandiose, meaning of the word: teacher. That I am, even if I don’t use the word. If I don’t look at that, and think hard on that, my blindness can foster a metamorphosis towards the ugly form of the word.
This is a slippery thing for me to grasp. I don’t feel that I’m all that different from those I mentor. I call them friends, because that’s what they seem to be to me.
But, that word obscures the fact that I am not just a friend to them. I see my friends as they describe themselves to me, as persons who struggle with personal and spiritual issues. They see me as someone who has seen a way beyond some of these same issues, as someone to whom their happiness — and in some ways perhaps even their survival– is bound.
The extent of this power differential is a recent revelation for me. I had understood in a general sense that it existed. I’ve held conversations, for example, about why any sort of romantic involvement was forever off-limits between myself and those I mentor. Still I hadn’t seen the depth of the issue until a few weeks ago I understood that a friend wasn’t really free to speak his mind with me.
This isn’t a problem with the disciple, as I know gurus (pejorative sense) everywhere have argued in similar situations. This “problem” isn’t even really a problem. It’s an inevitable part of the learning process. I never argued calculus or Russian grammar with my teachers, because I knew they knew far more than I did. The circumstances my friends are in (“friend”, defective as it is, is still a good word, expressive of aspiration, if not perfectly of reality) is analogous to the position of a calculus student, but much messier. As a calculus student I never looked to my professor as an authority on existence itself.
I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. And just as this isn’t a problem, but a fact, there isn’t a solution, but only a responsibility. I have a responsibility to strive to be aware of my friends’ circumstances, to strive to address the imbalances, to make space for independence, to recommit myself to serve my friends — understanding that, short of abuse, I am not free to walk away unless I am sent away, and that when I am sent away it’s not mine to linger a moment longer.
Perhaps the great failure of the gurus of the dharma religions is that. The student is expected to swear fealty to the teacher and to assume a duty of service to the teacher. In fact it is the teacher who ought be taking the oaths. Unless power is a burden, it is a poison.
Looking at it from another angle: Yes, I’ve known the “Great Aha!”, and it has in some sense irrevocably changed me. But extrapolating from there that I or anyone else could be an infallible enlightened being without the capacity to do wrong is bullshit of the sort that lets escapists indulge in fantasy and sociopaths indulge in excuses. I have a body. My mind can and had been fogged through illness and lack of sleep. I often lack the material knowledge to make the right decision. And try as I might to be aware of them, I’m as neurologically prone to cognitive errors as the next human equipped with a few pounds of wetware between my shoulders. I can, without a doubt, make errors, even devastating errors. The ideas expressed by the Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross, that one who has experienced theosis, while no longer capable of mortal sin (i.e., the rejection of God) remains capable of sins of the flesh (no, not how we use it, colloquially, to mean sex, but rather, that living creatures have physical limits and physical needs which can cause errors in judgment) are, in my opinion, much more accurate than the grandiose claims of the worst of the East.
I don’t want to be haunted by a burden of perfection that I cannot live up to. The only way to escape such a burden is to work diligently to mitigate the power imbalance between myself and those friends I mentor.