Friday, January 29, 2010

Persona

There is an ancient Hindu myth in which the sustaining force in universe, or God as it is sometimes referred in the West, manifests all that is within universe in a dream. As God dreams, it projects tiny holographic specks of itself to materialize the physical universe. God assumes the roles of galaxies, stars, the planets… the myriad creatures of universe (such as you and me) and thus becomes completely immersed in strange and wonderful adventures, some of which are terrible and frightening. Since God is all there is within (& without) universe and since there is no “other” in which to play with, God plays this cosmic game of “hide & seek” with itself. Hence these adventures we call life, take the form of a great cosmic game or play within the dream of God.

In the heat of game-play within this ultimate (cosmic) RPG, God temporarily forgets its true nature of oneness. This forgetfulness seems to span the entire cycle of universe. Eventually, God awakens from the many dreams and fantasies and remembers its true identity, the one and eternal Self of the cosmos who is never born and never dies. Thus universe goes round… now advancing… now receding… for eternity

Leela is a concept within Hinduism, literally meaning "pastime", "sport" or "play". It is a way of describing all reality, including the cosmos, as the outcome of creative play by the divine absolute. We can apply this mythos to humanity’s many societies and cultures… past and present. We can understand our trials and tribulations as a kind of play or drama which is being acted out by the eternal Self of universe. God hides in the roles and personalities of separate entities. We… as the manifestation of those entities… seek.

The trick is that we, as autonomous expressions of the cosmic Self, have mistaken the mask of individuation for reality. The word “personality” comes from the Latin word “persona,” which originally referred to an actors mask. When we accept entry into the game and assume a mask (or masks) as a player, awareness of unity is lost in the fascination of game-play. This illusion of separateness is created by the veiling power of the cosmic Self. This veiling power is called Maya in the Hindu system.

It could be argued that the ultimate goal of the individual in this cosmic game is to awaken to understanding that all is one. All of our strange and wonderful adventures, all of our terrible and frightening experiences are in essence the seeking of the divine within us. We seek… in hopes of glimpsing God behind the curtain of maya and experiencing the epiphany of enlightenment... to remove our masks. We strive to call out: olly olly oxen free! …and end the game of hide and seek… and perhaps to go home, arm in arm, knowing that the game had ended well.

On the other hand, it may be that the essential value lay not in the end result but in the playing of the game. It may be that it is not the destination but the journey that is important. Awareness of unity is of consequence, but let us not forget the importance of the “play”. Our experience of individual autonomous consciousness is the fun, the wonder and perhaps the point of our existence. After all… if God wants us to be the “eyes of the world”… to be the perceptive organs of universe… to play out the adventure...who are we to second guess?

If this be the case, then may we wear our masks well, play the game to its fullest and in the end, may we go home arm in arm, knowing that the game had ended well.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Supreme Folly

A bitterly divided Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the government may not ban political spending by corporations, labor unions or other organizations in elections. The court’s majority in “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” swept aside a century-old doctrine in election law, ruling that the campaign finance restriction violated the First Amendment’s free speech principles. The dissenting justices said that opening the floodgates to corporate money will corrupt democracy.

Reformers are outraged by the Supreme Court’s decision, which overruled its own precedent on independent corporate expenditures. As Nate Persily points out, as a practical matter the decision was just the last nail in the coffin; the Supreme Court had already substantially undermined the federal ban on independent corporate expenditures in earlier decisions.

This decision by the Supreme Court may well dwarf in impact the results of Tuesday’s election in Massachusetts. It is breathtaking in its scope: it overturns doctrine dating back a century and laws upheld in 1990 that banned corporate managers from directly spending shareholder money in elections.

A Constitutional amendment may be needed to restore the law to where it was at 9:50 yesterday morning.

There was no trial record; no reason to reach the decision; a rushed re-argument (followed by a delay that put this neutron bomb square into the middle of the political season). This matches or exceeds Bush v. Gore in ideological or partisan overreaching by the court (2000 presidential election). In that case, the court reached into the political process to hand the election to one candidate. Today it reached into the political process to hand unprecedented power to corporations.

The ban on direct corporate spending in elections goes back to the 1907 Tillman Act, which prohibited corporate contributions in federal campaigns (it was assumed to cover independent expenditures, too). In 1947, the Taft-Hartley law made explicit that corporations and unions could not directly spend their treasury funds on electioneering. Congress -– every time it has passed a law to deal with this -– only has strengthened this prohibition.

Why will this matter? Isn’t there a lot of money sloshing around in politics already? Consider Exxon-Mobil. In 2008, its political action committee (PAC) raised about $1 million from its employees and offices. Its profits that year, which it was legally barred from pouring into politics, were $45 billion. It was illegal for Exxon to spend that money on elections; now with this decision, it will be legal. Exxon or any other firm could spend Bloomberg-level sums in any congressional district in the country against, say, any congressman who supports climate change legislation, or health care, etc.

Justice Louis Brandeis (U.S. supreme court justice from 1916 to 1939) once said, “The most important political office is that of the private citizen.” Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision rejects Justice Brandeis’s view, raising corporations to new heights of power in our political system. In the wake of this decision, the light of liberty, within the United States, is flickering… on the verge of being extinguished… by our very own supreme court.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mount Emei – Sacred Mountain


Emei Shan, (mountain) is one of the most renowned Buddhist and Taoist sanctuaries in China. The beautiful majesty of this mountain has caused it to be named Emei, "The most beautiful mountain under heaven." Visitors of this mountain are treated to several peaks, bubbling springs, cascading waterfalls, tall ancient trees and abundant flowers along the many mountain paths leading to the many scenic spots and temples that dot the mountain side from the base to the summit.

Mount Emei is one of the most holy places of Buddhism. Located in Szechuan province, it is one of the four Buddhist sacred mountains of China. The slopes of Emei Shan have been inhabited since as early as 10,000 years ago. It was originally a Taoist retreat, but became a sacred Buddhist mountain by the 3rd century CE. Extensive rebuilding during the Ming dynasty finally converted most of Emei's Taoist temples to Buddhism. At 10,167 ft, Mt. Emei is the highest of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China. The patron bodhisattva of Emei is Samantabhadra, known in Chinese as Puxian.

Sources from the 16th and 17th century allude to the practice of martial arts (Emei Wushu) in the monasteries of Mount Emei… being the earliest extant reference to the Shaolin Monastery as Chinese boxing's place of origin.

Shrouded in Mystery
”A place of mystery” has traditionally been the perception of many people concerning Mt. Emei and Emei Wushu monasteries. That is because the Emei Wushu has never been readily passed on to "outsiders." There is an old Chinese saying, "Shandong province has highwaymen, Hebei province has Wushu experts, and Sichuan province has the men of Emei chivalry." This means that these three provinces produce top quality Wushu talents. However, the Emei chivalry man is mysterious and is similar to the Chinese legendary Wuxia (Knight Errant) who like Chinese robin hoods performed only good deeds and keep their methods hidden from the eyes of the profane. A few of the rare "hidden" styles are said to still exist in and around this mysterious abode of Taoists and Buddhists.

Mystery upon Mystery
Throughout history, many strange anomalies have been observed on Mt. Emei. Mysterious lights have been reported in the area for centuries. In the dark of night, on the peak of Mt. Emei, you can occasionally see points of fluorescence flowing between the valleys… which are like lamps. This is traditionally known as the famous “saint lamps” in Mt. Emei. Some have attributed these occurrences to “Earthquake Lights,” a phenomenon that until recently had been considered folklore. Others have identified UFOs as the source, caused by the dense neutrino rays coming from the alien spaceships (and hence triggering the earthquakes!).

Recently, a mysterious apparition appeared atop Mt. Emei… an apparition many believe to be the Buddha. This is not the first time such an anomaly has occurred, however. Here is a traditional description of just such an event…

In the afternoon, at the foot of the Sheshen Rock, the surroundings are often full of pure white clouds. Suddenly… an aura with the color of red, orange, yellow, green, black blue, blue and purple extends within a radius of around one to two meters. It looms and shines in the center like a mirror. Back against the sunlight from the west, sometimes observers can find their own shadow in the aura as if they were facing a bright mirror. Even if many people are viewing it, or two individuals are hugging each other while viewing it, they can only see themselves.

This phenomenal spectacle of Mt. Emei is known as “Buddha Rays". These are but a few examples of the mysterious goings-on high atop Mt. Emei, Sacred Mountain. In 1996 Mt. Emei was enlisted in the world natural and cultural heritage by the UNESCO.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Rise of the City-State


In the year 1800 CE, 3% of earth’s population lived in cities. In the year 1900 CE, the ratio of urban to rural dwellers rose to 14% urban. In the year 2007 CE, the percentage of earth’s population that lives in a city rose to 50%. This momentous year tipped the scale whereby more earthling humans live in a city that live in the country. To paraphrase Stewart Brand, we are now inhabitants of a city planet.

At our current rate of migration from rural living to city dwelling, 80% of earth’s human population will be urban by the year 2050 CE. Humanity’s flight to the cities of the world is a prime indicator of the increasing importance of city government and infrastructure in the years to come. The ability of any given city to provide essential necessities such as safety, shelter and sustenance to its citizenry will be the measure of said city’s effectiveness as a governmental overlay. The ability to provide essential utilities such as clean water, consistent electricity and effective transportation will be the measure of a municipality’s infrastructural integrity. A city’s ability to provide both of these essential elements will be the measure of its success and its greatness.

It is pertinent here to point out that the words: city, citizen and civilization all derive from the same Latin root word. It can be argued that in ancient times, the rise of cities triggered the rise of agriculture, and not the other way around, as is commonly postulated. Concentrations of people, protected behind city walls, facilitated innovative agricultural practices to feed the populace. Cities are by far the most enduring form of governmental structure on earth. Damascus, capitol of Syria, has been continuously occupied since 6300 BCE.

With the apparent destabilization and diminished effectiveness of federal governments throughout the world, brought about by the current global economic collapse, cities are emerging as the most dynamic governmental structure on the planet. As federal services are cut, community based relief organizations fill the void by providing relief services directly to the local population, thereby eliminating federal and state layers of government (read: bureaucracy). This trend will only strengthen the power of the City-State.

Of course, people have always identified with their city over their national and to a lesser degree their state identity. In responding to the question “where are you from?” the reply “I’m from New York City” or “I’m from Seattle” or some such variation is the typical answer given… with more bravado and pride… than “I’m a United States citizen”. This type of affiliation also is indicative of tribal identity.

Given the above premises, it is reasonable to forecast the rise of the City-State as the emerging governmental power of the twenty-first century. Global civilization will gravitate around the city structure. Our identity and our allegiance will more align with our city over any other governmental entity as services and utilities are increasingly provided on a local level. The strongest competition for allegiance may well come from neo-tribal identity, as tribal organization also supplies security to its members. Tribal identity will also strengthen the City-State, as these two forms of governance are the most compatible and synergistic. That is, they each have the most to gain through mutual cooperation.

Time will tell if these predictions come to pass. In some ways, they have already begun. In other ways, the power of the City-State has always been. Ever since the rise of the first great City-States of antiquity, municipal organization has been the most pervasive form civic cooperation. In the end, allegiance will be given to the entity which supplies the most effective and beneficial service to its citizenry.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Environmentalism for a small planet

"The environmental movement has morphed steadily into the climate change movement... that means that Greens are no longer strictly the defenders of natural systems against the incursions of civilization; now they're the defenders of civilization as well."

- from Whole Earth Discipline by Stewart Brand


The diameter of our Earth is a mere 7,926 miles... contrasted with our solar system... with a diameter of 2,790,000,000 miles... Earth is but a speck of air, water, fire and soil in the vastness of space. Our solar system, in turn, is but a speck compared to the Milky Way galaxy... which is but a freckle on the face of universe. However... to the flora and fauna on Earth... this planet is a vast, incredibly complex system of interdependent processes of life. The geologic/bio-diversity upon and within our planet is nothing short of a miracle. A useful analogy is James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis in which Earth is seen as a living organism.

It is reasonable and fast becoming necessary for earthling humans to actively assume the role of stewards of our small planet. This is so because it is also reasonable to assume the responsibility that humans have, through advanced agriculture practices and fossil fuel consumption, added a slight yet significant burden of greenhouse gases (CO2) to our atmosphere, thereby contributing to our planetary system's current atmospheric irregularity. It is now vital that we view the future with the eye of an environmentalist so we may ascertain and address our home world's atmospheric imbalance with a goal of planetary climatic equilibrium.

For clarification on what is considered planetary climatic equilibrium, the amount of greenhouse gases in earth's atmosphere is measured and compared to historic levels. These gases are measured in parts per million. Up until 200 years ago, the historic norm was 275 part per million. 350 parts per million is what many scientists, climate experts, and progressive national governments are now saying is the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere. Today, the ratio stands at 390 ppm and rising a little more than 2 ppm annually. Having Exceeded the 350 ppm mark indicates that our planet (and its atmosphere) has gone beyond the point of no return for the old equilibrium. The resulting effect of exceeding this tipping point is collectively referred to as "climate change."

If humanity takes climate change seriously and acts now, we may be able to achieve a new planetary equilibrium and stabilize at around 450 ppm within the next 25 to 50 years. Leveling off at 450 ppm could result in a global temperature rise of only 3.6° F, with a potential large loss of species, more severe storms, floods and droughts, refugees from rising sea levels and other extreme and inhumane consequences. Unfortunately, this is an optimistic scenario.

The two basic strategies that humanity has at its disposal to combat climate change are mitigation and adaptation.

Mitigation is any action taken to permanently eliminate or reduce the long-term risk and hazards of climate change to human life and property. This would involve altering the activities that contribute to climate change through the application of technology and practices. The primary example would be the immediate cutting back of greenhouse gas emissions. This would require significant discipline on our part, as well as technological innovation.

Adaptation would require a "coming to terms" with climate change and managing its effects. This term refers to the ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damage, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences. Adaptation pertains to how we react to climate change and what changes we make to deal with it's advancement. One example of adaptation would involve moving coastal populations to higher ground in anticipation of rising sea levels.

The bottom line is that our best scientific hypothesis is little more than an educated guess. We cannot completely fathom the chaotic complexity of our planet's environmental systems. Regardless, humanity must rise to the challenge of climate change. This is perhaps the most definitive opportunity in our lifetime for humanity to come together and collaborate on this global issue... responding on a global scale.

If we don't act now... we will be left with only one option... adaptation.