I Heart Huckabees (2004)

We had a lovely Thanksgiving meal, yesterday. There were lots of leftovers so we all stayed home and watched “I Heart Huckabees”, tonight. (My daughter wanted to see it.) I don’t remember the last time I saw this movie, but it has been on my list of all-time favorites since it first came out. I am quite certain I understood it far better this viewing than I have previously, however.

SPOILER WARNING!!!

Albert goes to the Existentialist detectives to make sense of a series of coincidences.  It can’t just be a coincidence that he’s bumped into the same man three times in three different places, can it?  The Existentialist detectives (played by Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman) keep telling him that everything is connected. I took this too literally on my previous viewings.  What I now think they mean by this is that Albert has made all of these connections in his mind.  So what the detectives do is help him work through his constructed meanings.  It is not as though coincidences are necessarily meaningful in themselves (as if God or the universe or whatever is trying to send him a special message).  Their meaning is dependent upon the meaning that has been constructed by the person experiencing the coincidence.

You have to be honest about your thoughts and actions if you are going to deconstruct the meaning you have created.  Albert continually lies to the detectives about various circumstances.  He even lies to them about what he claims to be coincidence.  They claim he is betraying himself.  That’s pretty much how it goes, isn’t it?  We deny certain aspects of our being because we are too ashamed to reveal them, and then that denial gets projected outward onto others. In Albert’s case, he projects it on to Brad.

The French nihilist claims nothing means anything.  The world is chaotic, full of anger and suffering, and ultimately meaningless.  The Jaffe’s are constantly countering this view, but in the end it is clear that they are actually in cahoots with the nihilist.  And this makes sense!  Yes, everything is meaningless.  But that doesn’t mean everything is meaningless!!

For centuries, we’ve been under the assumption that meaning exists outside of ourselves.  So when we discover that there is no meaning being imposed by God or the universe, the automatic assumption is that the world is meaningless.  But the only reason this idea would make someone nihilistic is if they were still wishing that an external source provided meaning for them. They would rather have meaning imposed upon them than take responsibility for it.  So when they discover it isn’t imposed upon them, they default to “nothing means anything, it’s all meaningless”.

I think you sort of have to go to that dark space of meaninglessness in order to discover that just because there is no externally imposed meaning, that doesn’t mean everything is meaningless.  You have created that meaninglessness.  It hasn’t been imposed upon you by some external source.

It made sense for Albert and Tommy to “defect” to the “other side” and work with the nihilist who says the world is nothing more than a chaotic mess of anger and suffering.  I think in my own development, that’s kind of how it has worked for me.  I started with a sort of superstitious belief in God that I finally had to let go.  I turned to A Course in Miracles, but I didn’t really understand it because I had managed to take my belief in a personal God with me into my studies of ACIM.  Lots of ACIM students do this.  You see it all the time.  It becomes nothing more than a shallow New Age religion that you use to keep suffering at bay.  But despite my efforts, life happened and there were many difficult things that put me into a seriously dark place for a while.  That’s when I started reading the existentialists (Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Kafka, Hesse, Conrad..)

The main thing I got out of reading the existentialists was the idea that we need to stop denying the darker sides of our natures – that it is the attempt to rid ourselves of what we see as our more animalistic side (the Karamazov side in The Brothers Karamazov, the wolf in Steppenwolfe, the “savages” in Heart of Darkness, etc.) that has created the horrors of the current age.  For centuries we have been assigning “sinful” to our animal nature thanks to Augustine’s fallen man theory (or more likely, a misinterpretation of Augustine’s fallen man theory), but this assignment has not served us.  It has hurt us.  And now that the Enlightenment has killed off the traditional worldview of God, we are destined for nihilism if we don’t also finally let go of the idea that meaning is somehow externally begotten.  The rationalists and empiricists may adamantly claim they don’t believe in God, but they still hold on to the idea that there is some sort of external meaning giver.  There is an external absolute Truth just waiting to be discovered by science.

As Nietzsche said, faith is constantly placed in a future world, not in this world.  This is why he said nihilism was unavoidable.  The Christians put their faith in getting to a perfect future place called Heaven.  In order to get there, they have to deny this world and their animalistic urges.  Empiricists place their faith in a future world made perfect by science and technology.  Perfect nature, perfect the human being, and the world will be better in the future.  Either way, the faith is in something otherworldly and external and promises a world free of suffering.  This world must be denied in order to “achieve” this otherworldly, pain-free futuristic place.  The denial of this world is what concerned Nietzsche and why he said we were headed toward nihilism.  These days, there are Christians who have reason to destroy the environment because they see it as bringing on Armageddon which will get them to Heaven faster.   Others (like Brad) distract themselves with the material pleasures provided by science and technology and turn a blind eye to what is happening to themselves and their environment in the pursuit of this material success.

Buddhists talk about the middle way and I think that is what Tommy and Albert discover and what the Existential Detectives and the Nihilist want them to discover.  The Existential detectives gloss over human suffering, but the Nihilist goes straight to the heart of it, even creates suffering in order to help Tommy and Albert understand.  Yes, everything is ultimately meaningless and the world is full of senseless suffering, but that doesn’t mean life is not meaningful.  Brad and Albert are very different people, but they are the same in their suffering.  Albert and Tommy describe this interconnection as absolutely fantastic, but also nothing special because “it grows from the manure of human trouble… No manure, no magic.”

There is also the existential issue of authenticity.  Brad’s dismantling finally starts to occur when the existential detectives point out repetitive behavior Brad uses as propaganda to promote himself.  He repeatedly tells a story about Shania Twain and tricking her into eating a chicken salad sandwich with mayo.  The story helps to project a certain image he likes to portray.  But when he does this, is he being himself?  The question is repeated over and over again – “How am I not myself?”

How can you be anything other than yourself?  You are who you are, there is no one else you can be.  And yet, we all engage in behavior attempting to be someone we are not.

Harold and Maude (1971)

I finally got around to seeing Harold and Maude. I have heard about this movie ever since I can remember and thankfully found it at my local library.

I imagine this was an extremely shocking film back in 1971.  Supposedly it was a commercial failure. Today it’s listed as number 45 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Funniest Movies and number 69 on the American Film Institute’s list of most romantic films. In 1997, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress as being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Harold is a morbid 19 year old who is constantly faking his death. Maude, on the other hand, is a very youthful, very alive 79 year old. They meet at the funeral of someone neither of them know. Harold is there because he likes the morbidity of it. Maude is there because she likes being reminded of how wonderful it is to be alive.

Hal Ashby, the director of Harold and Maude, said one of the main themes is the contrast between the hard won optimism of the older generation and that of the nihilism of the alienated younger generation. Maude had to endure the horrors of a concentration camp during WWII while Harold is coming of age in a society that suffers a crisis of meaning thanks to the horrors of WWII (the Holocaust, the destruction of the atom bomb, etc.). Harold has grown up in a society that tells him he has no purpose while Maude has overcome meaninglessness by recognizing the purpose of just “being”.

Maude has lived 79 years and has seen terrible things yet continues to take joy in the world.  Harold isn’t old enough to have seen much of the world, but is already weary of it.  It is Maude who shows him how to live and it is no wonder Harold falls in love with her! Maude doesn’t require that the world be perfect in order to love it.

Will to Power (Nietzsche): Lectures 13-18

Continued notes from Will to Power (Higgins and Solomon)…

Love Pity and Resentment

  • There is a dichotomy that occurs between doing the right thing and doing what you want to do (self-interest). Nietzsche questions this dichotomy and says that very often that self-interest may be the right thing to do and the right thing to do may be self-interest. People do what it is they are motivated to do. When you practice benevolence you are often practicing a form of subtle revenge. Also, if someone is suffering and I feel pity for them, I’m not making them feel any better. By suffering with them, I’m not making them feel any better. I don’t reduce the suffering, I increase it. Pity for someone casts them into an inferior role. When you pity them, you no longer fear them. You are superior.
  • How much can we actually empathize with another person? When we pity someone with insight and empathy we can understand that we share the world and are subject to the same plight. This is Schopenhauer’s stance. We realize we are all inferior and subject to the same plight. We are victims. Nietzsche says this is pathetic. To think we are all victims together is not a noble notion. He says the idea of compassion is a hypocrisy.
  • Ressintement (Resentment) seems to be a justified and reasonable response to injustice but really it is nothing more than a sense of hopelessness.
  • Guilt goes along with resentment. The major thrust of Christianity is to cure the problem of guilt. But Christianity created the problem of guilt; Christianity makes people feel guilty and then offers them a way out of the guilt. That’s hypocritical.

Love & Friendship

  • Love is a longing for something far beyond oneself.
  • Christian love doesn’t emphasize friendship and it de-sexualizes love. Nietzsche rejects this. Love always has a sexual element.
  • Marriage is a long conversation.
  • A friendship based on mutual enjoyment is much different than a friendship based on mutual advantage. Enjoying someone is much better than using someone for advantage. But even more important is friendship based on mutual admiration – one that makes us want to be a better person because of the relationship. Aristotle said this was the key to friendship.
  • Friendship is also about mutual inspiration.

Women

  • Nietzsche is often thought of as sexist. Some of his comments do seem very sexist but when understood in context, they aren’t as sexist as they first appear.
  • Nietzsche says “Supposing truth is a woman, what then?” (Truth in German is a feminine noun.) People think this is a sexist comment but it isn’t. Nietzsche assumes women are psychologically complex and suggests by this aphorism that truth, like a woman, is reticent to be known. It has to be wooed. (Women are resistant to male demands.) Like a woman for a desiring man, truth cannot ultimately be had.
  • In Beyond Good & Evil (pp. 231-239), he prefaces his comments about women as the comments being “only my truths”. He recognizes that women may not agree with his ideas about them. (That the female perspective is very likely different than his perspective.) He says that women want to debunk fantasies men have had about themselves and that this is not a persuasive approach. It’s giving control to consciousness what is better left to instinct. They are buying into a game men have been harmed by. Nietzsche tries to understand an alternative consciousness – that of women. In doing so, he upholds perspectivism. He doesn’t think women should be more like men. They have will of their own. They have a different perspective than men and this perspective is beneficial.

Top 10

This lecture provided a list of Nietzsche’s top 10 favorite philosophers and top 10 least favorite philosophers. I didn’t write them all down, but here are a few…

  • Spinoza is on the list of favorites. Nietzsche recognized himself in Spinoza. They had much in common: Love of fate; the rejection of pity; naturalism; the attempt to understand the individual in the context of the whole
  • Emerson is also on the list of favorites. (He’s the only American on either list.) Some of Nietzsche’s ideas have names that come from Emerson. Emerson talked about the Oversoul, Nietzsche’s Ubermensch (Overman) is a very similar idea. Emerson talked about the joyous science. Nietzsche uses the term “gay science”. Emerson talked about the “death of God and, like Nietzsche, he rejected orthodox theology for religious reasons.
  • Kant is one of Nietzsche’s favorite and least favorite philosophers. He greatly admires Kant but he also criticizes him because he doesn’t propose something naturalistic. He proposes something dictated to us – even if it is reason doing the dictating.
  • Martin Luther is one of Nietzsche’s least favorite philosophers. Much of Nietzsche’s thought shows clear Lutheran underpinnings. Nietzsche sees depravity in Luther that he rejects.
  • St. Paul is one of Nietzsche’s least favorite philosophers. He is an opportunist. A propogandist. Paul had no use for the life of the redeemer. Paul’s philosophy required the crucifixion. Paul was resentful and had no use for life.
  • Absurd rationality leads to the idea that life is worthless.

History

  • Hegel said that spirit is this worldly. It’s a sort of cosmic consciousness. It’s isn’t otherworldly. Nietzsche agrees with this understanding of spirit.
  • Hegel invented history. The question of whether truth changes through time were not questions actively raised until Hegel. He makes this question a central focus and this thesis is very close to Nietzsche’s. The truth of history is the truth of change. There are many truths and these truths can contradict each other. It isn’t a matter of which ones are right and which ones are wrong. It’s a matter of which are more developed, which are more naive, which are one sided, which take account of others.
  • Hegel said Bacchanalian revel was the truth of philosophy in general. this is very similar to Nietzsche’s Dionysian metaphor. Philosophy is not a neat linear progression. It is not a matter of rational thinking. It is a passionate mess. It is complicated and unresolved.
  • Philosophers conflict and they build on one another in a patterned way. (Not that there is a purpose behind it all – a teleology). Something emerging in a patterned way is what Nietzsche’s genealogy is all about.
  • Darwin said that man is not the ultimate stage but a stepping stone to something else. Nietzsche was against the idea of “the survival of the fittest” because he said it had not been fully established. He says it is about a struggle for power. Nietzsche interprets Darwin as an English theologian – that we are at the end of evolution and man is the result. Social Darwinism says only the fittest societies survive. It is a moral philosophy. Those that perish were meant to perish. those that survive were meant to survive. It’s a harsh doctrine and Nietzsche rejects it. Nietzsche’s had a far more artistic sense. For Nietzsche, it’s not just a matter of simple survival, it is a matter of creativity and imagination. Those who survive are the most creative. What comes out of natural selection in terms of society isn’t the best, it is the weakest; the most common; the most repulsive. The cockroach is most likely the most fit. But is this the best?
  • Nietzsche’s Last Man is most likely the fittest in terms of natural selection. But if it is up to us to choose through our ability to create, is this what we want to choose? Do we want to be the ultimate couch potato living safely and comfortably. Or do we want to live a more risky, creative existence?
  • What we call truth are those things that best lead to human survival. Evolution tells us why we believe what it is we believe not by justifying belief but by showing the place beliefs play in a flourishing life.
  • History can be a form of the “other-worldly” because it is based on the past. But you can’t just go back to the past. You have to live in the here and now.
  • History is essential for many things, but it is not an ends in itself.
  • How do we find a perspective where history affirms life? Antiquarian History is a way of appreciating our past that doesn’t involve white washing. Greece was a culture steeped in cruelty. It’s not enough to just look at the nice parts but as it really was. Our history, ugly or beautiful, is part of what makes us what we are.
  • The underlying value must always be life itself.

Nihilism

  • Nihilism was originally understood as something akin to teenage rebellion. It was a rejection of tradition. Nietzsche rejected German Society so in this sense he could be called a nihilist. But he didn’t reject society altogether.
  • Nietzsche defined nihilism as the highest values devaluing themselves. He’s talking about two values in particular: moral values and the values of the Judeo/Christian tradition. Religion and morality are his focus.
  • Skepticism is healthy. Cynicism is an unhealthy denial of life. Trial and error is skepticism. Cynicism is being tired and weary – being so skeptical that you aren’t open to anything. It doesn’t allow for possibilities. It is closed rather than open.
  • Nietzsche is against Nihilism. But he refuses to take “the truth” as something fixed, absolute and easily accessible. We create the truth through our experience and our living. He is a nihilist in terms of knowledge.
  • If Christians are honest, it doesn’t take much to realize that God is not central to their conception of the real world. Realistically, the Christian God no longer played a major role. Our culture is no longer centered on this God – whether we uphold the idea or not.
  • Are the values we once held valuable? Values change. Perhaps they were reasonable moves at one time but they are no longer valuable.
  • Schopenhauer said asceticism was a way to make life good – renounce the will and maintain peace. Nietzsche rejects this. To fast for the sake of fasting or to sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice makes no sense to him. Is there a deeper motive for asceticism? Someone able to control impulses often feels superior and self-righteous.
  • Nietzsche sees science as having been pursued as a sort of Goethean selling the soul to the devil. The desire for truth is a desire to align finite powers with the infinite. With this thinking, one becomes a representative of humanity rather than an individual. Nietzsche says the scientific world view is a shadow of God that still lingers with us. It’s important not to transpose habits of the past to a scientific world view. We need to resuscitate our powers and not transfer them to the Christian God or some dream of nature we know nothing about.

ACIM Lesson 132: I loose the world from all I thought it was.

I struggle with this lesson. I can understand loosing the world from all I thought it was. But when we get to the part that there is no world because it is a thought that separates us from God, I start smelling that good old stinking Cartesian split thinking.

But it’s been a really long weekend – our living room was overtaken by a teenage rock band on Friday with hoards of teens coming and going all night long. Eight kids spent the night and were up making noise until 4 in the morning. On Saturday, I had to help cart band equipment to a Crawfish Festival which was really fun but I’m pooped. Beyond pooped! My brain is very likely malfunctioning.

But here are my thoughts…

ACIM: The world is nothing in itself. Your mind must give it meaning. And what you behold upon it are your wishes, acted out so you can look on them and think them real. Perhaps you think you did not make the world, but came unwillingly to what was made already, hardly waiting for your thoughts to give it meaning. Yet in truth you found exactly what you looked for when you came.

That seems right in line with the Existentialism and with Buddhism. Nothing outrageous. I’m OK with that.

But ACIM goes on to say: There is no world! This is the central thought the course attempts to teach. Not everyone is ready to accept it, and each one must go as far as he can let himself be led along the road to truth. He will return and go still farther, or perhaps step back a while and then return again.

Now this seems like nihilism!! There is no world. Buddhism teaches something similar – nothingness. But it’s only nothing because it is everything. Is that what ACIM is saying?

I think it is probably important to remember that ACIM speaks in metaphors and is not meant to be taken literally. If I panic when someone says the world doesn’t exist, then what does that say about my beliefs? If I experience myself as “in the world”, then why do I care whether the world exists or not? It only matters when I think of myself as “of the world”. That is a direct threat to my own existence. And, of course, what else but the ego would care about the existence or non-existence of the world? That which observes and is aware of the world doesn’t make an issue over whether it exists or not.

But existence doesn’t rely on meaning does it? I don’t know what makes something extant. But what’s interesting about the term is that it comes from the Latin exstare which means to stand out. That something can stand out is illusory because our existence is entirely dependent upon our interconnectedness. The word “existence” comes from the Latin word existere which means “to cause to stand”. There are several meanings for stand, but all seem to be based on the idea of maintaining a position (physically or mentally). If everything is in constant flux, how can something be caused to stand? Something else kind of cool, the original meaning of stand had to do with pausing, hesitation.

ACIM: Release the world! Your real creations wait for this release to give you fatherhood, not of illusions, but as God in truth. God shares His Fatherhood with you who are His Son, for He makes no distinctions in what is Himself and what is still Himself. What He creates is not apart from Him, and nowhere does the Father end, the Son begin as something separate from Him.

Reminds me of Huston Smith’s version of the well known analogy about reality being like the ocean and humanity like a drop of water. The drop of water falls into the ocean and is consumed by it. But Smith says he doesn’t really like this analogy because it sounds too much like annihilation. The better analogy, he says, is that the drop of water opens to the ocean and in the opening, takes the ocean in and becomes the ocean.

ACIM: There is no world because it is a thought apart from God, and made to separate the Father and the Son, and break away a part of God Himself and thus destroy His Wholeness. Can a world which comes from this idea be real? Can it be anywhere? Deny illusions, but accept the truth. Deny you are a shadow briefly laid upon a dying world. Release your mind, and you will look upon a world released.

This is where I have trouble because it makes me confused about what ACIM means by “world”. An interconnection of relationships? Or a physical reality?

ACIM: Deny illusions, but accept the truth. Deny you are a shadow briefly laid upon a dying world. Release your mind, and you will look upon a world released.

Don’t like this terminology, either. What we deny, we tend to hold onto. But it at least makes sense that our existence is a shadow briefly laid upon a dying world. Our physical existence is but a pause, a hesitation. The physical world is likewise nothing more than a hesitation.

ACIM: I who remain as God created me would loose the world from all I thought it was. For I am real because the world is not, and I would know my own reality.

I am real because the world is not? This is the first thing in ACIM I think I’ve really had a problem with. It’s one thing to say the world is illusory. It’s another to say that understanding my reality relies upon the denial of the reality of the world. I think that is highly problematic.

I loose the world from all I thought it was,and choose my own reality instead.

I really need to catch up on the reading. Maybe this will make more sense later.

ACIM Lesson 130: It is impossible to see two worlds.

Does this imply that there are two worlds? If so, I find that problematic. I think we are constantly creating new worlds. It’s a process. And it takes an awful lot of trust, love, and reverence to leave the world we once valued and were comfortable with to enter into the unknown. But once we’ve entered the unknown, it becomes known to us and the process starts all over again (or really never ends or begins – it’s always in process).

St theresa said that women have a far different understanding of enlightenment than do men. Enlightenment has been presented primarily by men as a sort of achievement. But it seems sort of useless to me to think of enlightenment as something we can possess or achieve because that creates a craving. To desire enlightenment gives us desire, not enlightenment.

Clearly, ACIM is not pointing to a dualism. So what is it saying? What I have recognized in my own journey is that when I have been able to recognize my “prison” and am able to move beyond it, I can never go back. Once your awareness is broadened, it ‘s impossible to go back to things the way they were. It is impossible to see two worlds. When our perception shifts, our world shifts with it.

ACIM: Fear has made everything you think you see. All separation, all distinctions, and the multitude of differences you believe make up the world. They are not there. Love’s enemy has made them up. Yet love can have no enemy, and so they have no cause, no being and no consequence. They can be valued, but remain unreal. They can be sought, but they can not be found. Today we will not seek for them, nor waste this day in seeking what can not be found.

This is very existentialist. We have created what it is we value and we continue to value it because we are afraid to see beyond it. The hardest thing I ever did was to give up my attachment to Christianity and especially the idea that there was a God underlying the universe giving meaning to everything. I had tried all my life to be a good Christian and had opted out of some behaviors my friends were happily engaged in because I wanted to be “good”. I wanted to achieve the meaning (peace) that had been promised me for good behavior. My whole “existence” was tied up in that belief system so to let it go was excruciatingly painful and terrifying. But letting go of that belief system was what made me realize the world is illusory. It brought me face to face with Camus’ “absurdism”. It was we who created God and it was we who killed God (the traditional idea of God, that is). There is no underlying meaning of the universe except that which we have given it. That’s a harsh realization although it is also liberating.

When ACIM says that it is fear that has made everything you think you see, I think of Nietzsche here, too. We said yes to the world we were born into and all of its values and traditions (or at least a good portion of them). It was important that we did that because in order to say “no” we first must be fairly successful at surviving in our world. (If we have not become successful, we’ll never fully realize that we have an ego in the first place.) But at some point, we do recognize that the values we valued are valueless. Instead of saying yes, we realize it is time to say no. But not out of ingratitude, anger and fear. Out of the realization that we only remain where it is we are at out of fear. Gratitude urges us on. We slay the thousand scales on the dragon one by one until we realize that the thousands scales are really only one scale. There was never any reason to be afraid. Like Zorathustra, we laugh, sing and dance because we realize the dragon itself is an illusion.

I suppose for some people it may come in an instant flash of realization. But I think for most of us, it’s a process. The deepening of awareness is a journey with no end so to be impatient about “getting there” serves no purpose. There is no where to go. We’re here.

ACIM: The real and the unreal are all there are to choose between, and nothing more than these.

Can we accept what is right in front of us? Can we accept our situation as it is? Or do we deny reality by insisting on seeing only the projection of our past experiences? Here is this meaningless world and here are the values I’ve written upon it. It is fear that makes me chose my values over it’s meaninglessness. That sounds nihilistic. But what happens when we are able to open ourselves in that way that leaves compromise and doubt behind and makes room for broader processes like love, trust and reverence to work within us.

I wonder about the use of God in ACIM, now. In the last lesson, it said: “You cannot stop with the idea the world is worthless, for unless you see that there is something else to hope for, you will only be depressed. Our emphasis is not on giving up the world, but on exchanging it for what is far more satisfying, filled with joy, and capable of offering you peace. Think you this world can offer that to you? “

This is what Nietzsche worried about. We had killed the traditional understanding of God and had replaced our faith in that God with faith in reason, science and technology. (The madman went running into the crowds exclaiming God is dead but realized he had come too early – even though the crowds were primarily atheists, they didn’t understand that God was dead because they had found a replacement.) The idea that there is a single reality that gives meaning to the universe that can somehow be known either through the appropriate religious beliefs or through sensory experience no longer serves us. We’ve become nihilistic. We don’t see anything beyond ourselves to hope for so we blame one another for all that is wrong with the world. Both the secularists and the religious claim the problem is that we do not maintain the right belief system. The fundamentalist secularists, of course, don’t call themselves “believers” like the fundamental religious do because they think all that exists is what is material. But to make the emphatic claim that existence relies on sensory experience is a belief. They maintain a sort of skeptical disbelief of anything non-material. But disbelief is really just the flip side of belief. It’s all based on the exact same sort of thinking that religious fundamentalism is based upon – a need for material certainty. (Fundamentalist Christians maintain this material certainty in the belief that their personality “goes to heaven” or “hell”.)

Many secularists maintain a belief in Original Sin every bit as do the more traditional Christians. We are fundamentally flawed human beings that must be saved by science and rationalism. But ACIM says: Accept a little part of hell as real, and you have damned your eyes and cursed your sight, and what you will behold is hell indeed.

We created the idea of Original Sin (via St. Augustine). We created the idea that humanity is fundamentally flawed and guilty and in need of something external from us to save us. We think hell is real even if we have completely rejected the traditional religious notions of heaven and hell. Whenever we blame someone else for what we think is wrong with the world, we are accepting a little part of hell and that makes our sight murky. We can’t see clearly.

ACIM: All you need say to any part of hell, whatever form it takes, is simply this:

It is impossible to see two worlds. I seek my freedom and deliverance, and this is not a part of what I want.

Six Paramitas (Diligence, Concentration, Wisdom)

The following are very sketchy notes on the Dalai Lamas talk about the Six Paramitas. I have included them for future reference purposes.

Diligence (Bodhicitta) – delight in virtue. Doing virtuous things. Without delight in doing what is virtuous, it is not diligence in the Buddhist sense.

Armour- like diligence – when one endures Hell without losing his enthusiasm for the Buddha, this is Armour-like diligence.

Unsurpassed diligence – having enthusiasm for all sentient beings.

The feeling of suffering is related to time. When there is no suffering, time is not felt. When there is great suffering, time is unbearable. When we are happy we lose all sense of time. The felt duration of time depends upon mental attitude.

“If I live, I will benefit beings. If I die, I will benefit beings. I will benefit beings as the basis as the path and as the result.” There is simply no other intention than this.

One must remove laziness like postponement (I can do that later); bad deeds (meaningless activities, distractions, wasting one’s time); cowardice or defeatest attitudes.

The more one understands the important points, the more courage one will generate. One has to think about action and result. It must be cultivated. There is nothing that does not get easier through cultivation. The Buddhas of the past were not Buddhas in the beginning.

In the texts – Buddhas in the beginning are referred to. But what this means is that all phenomenon, pure and impure, are drawn from luminosity. This luminosity pervades everything equally. The distinctions, “Samsara” and “Nirvana” are nothing but mental disinctions. They do not refer to any location. The distinction only refers to the state of an individuals mind. It can be in a state of samsara or a state of nirvana. All phenomena pure and impure without exception dawn from luminosity – and they subside into luminosity, they are contained within luminosity.

So when the previous elaborations subside in luminosity – a pure aspect arises from the luminosity. This is what is referred to with the terms “primoridal Buddha” – or “Buddha from the beginning”.

[I think this might be the same as the difference that is often referred to between Christ and Jesus. Christ existed from the beginning, not Jesus. Just as a Buddha must attain Buddhahood – Jesus had to attain Christdom – through diligence.]

If one is proud, one tends to look down on others. Self confidence and courage do not have that aspect.

There are three kinds of self-confidence: Confidence of Action, of Capacity and of Conquering disturbing Emotions.

  • Confidence of Action – I can do this alone and do not need to be dependent upon whether others come along or not. Individual responsibility.
  • Confidence of Capacity – others might not be able to do it, but I can do it.

Two kinds of “ego”:  “I” or “me” usually connotates a degenerate state of mind. But self-confidence is the helpful aspect of “I” and “me” and is very important in order to accomplish something. “I can”, “I will”, “I will overcome the influence of disturbing emotions.” This is a very powerful self- confidence because we have been under the influence and tyranny of disturbing emotions. Now we want our freedom, our autonomy. How can we do this unless we have strong self-determination?

Meditative Concentration is the 5th Paramita.

First Level – the mind abides in a relaxed manner on the focal point of absorption. Peaceful Abiding or Shamatha.

Formless Absorptions are practiced by non-Buddhists as well. If someone wishes to truly improve their mind, it will be difficult or impossible by remaining in samhadi.

Samhadi is a non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the consciousness of the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object and in which the mind becomes still (one-pointed or concentrated) though the person remains conscious.

Analytical Meditation which brings about special insight (Vipassyana).

In Shamatha – best to engage in very short periods of time – especially for beginners. If the mind becomes exhausted, meditation is faulty. Struggling to extend the duration of a session is harmful.

The Exact – can use focal objects like a vase or inner phenomena (Mahamudra).

What is the true nature of the inner mind?

Isolation: physical, verbal, mental. Mental refers to meditation

Meditation deities – outer focal objects. Forms. First held by sense of consciousness. The mental image is the focal point. When mental image is made, actual object ceases to be. It is of a mental nature. Any image is imprinted in our mind and is therefore similar to a meditation diety.

Freedom of Elaborations – focus is on empty forms in the intermediate space.

Conceptual vs. non-conceptual mind. (Established through Hindu systems).

Sixth Paramita – Wisdom

“Those that establish the referent [one that refers or is referred to; especially : the thing that a symbol (as a word or sign) stands for] – object of a self are non-Buddhists, those who negate the self are Buddhists.”

Those who establish the referent object, the view of a self – as something truly existent are non-Buddhists. Those who negate this referent object are Buddhists.

If that is the defintion of a Buddhist, then clearly both my husband and I are Buddhists without having previously realized we were Buddhists. This also seems to fit in perfectly with ACIM philosophy.

As long as there is the clinging to a “self” this is a condition for other disturbing emotions to arise.

Nothing can bring about liberation except meditation on the non-self. That is how suffering is pacified. apart from that, there is no other way.

When there is a notion of “self”, there is a notion of “others”. From this, all other faults proliferate.

If you think about it, that which says “I”, where is it to be found? The self depends upon body and mind. In fac the idea of self depends on the body and the mind.

As long as there is attachment, there will be clinging to a self.

The arising of things as existent is ignorance.

If you wish to overcome disturbing emotions, get rid of ignorance. Ignorance is omnipresent. The same cannot be said for the other way around.

  • Independence – nihilism
  • Dependence – narcissism
  • Interdependence – empty

Whatever is interdependent is a dependent entity. It does not exist in and of itself. Independence is thereby negated. But since it is a dependent entity, it is non-existent.

The Middlepath. 

The Six Paramitas (Generosity, Ethics, Patience)

I’ve finished watching the first two discs of The Dalai Lama’s talk on the Six Paramitas. This was the first I’d heard of the Paramitas.

Paramita is a Sanskrit term which refers to perfection or transcendent. There are ten Paramitas in Theraveda (The Way of the Elders) Buddhism. In Mahayana (Great Vehicle) Buddhism, there are Six:

  1. Dana – generosity, giving of oneself
  2. Sila – virtue, morality, proper conduct – ethics
  3. Ksanti – patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance
  4. Virya – energy, diligence, vigor, effort
  5. Dhyana – one pointed concentration, contemplation
  6. Prajna – wisdom, insight

Tibetan Buddhism is also known as Vajrayana Buddhism which is an extension of Mahayana Buddhism. It differs in technique from much of Mahayana Buddhism but not in philosophy. It is said that Padmasambhava, at the request of the King of Tibet, traveled from Afghanistan to bring Vajrayana Buddhism to Tibet and Bhutan in 747. Around the 14th century, Tsongkhapa brought Gelug to Tibet. He established the first monestary in Tibet called Ganden Tripa which is lead by the Dalai Lama. Compassion is considered to be the fundamental spiritual orientation along with the doctrine of emptiness as propounded by Nagarjuna and Candrakirti.

So – my notes from the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet on the first two Discs of the Six Paramitas…

Buddhism is situated in the middle between the proponents of non-existence (a sort of nihilistic philosophy) and the proponents of existence (a sort of externalist, materialistic, narcissistic philosophy). In order to find the middle way, Buddhism says to discard the cause and practice the path. There are two wrong views. One is superimposition or exaggeration and the other is depreciation. In order to remove them, valid cognition must be used.

Often, Tibetan buddhism is described as animism, shamanism, or lamaism by Westerners. But this is not the case. Tibetan Buddhism arose from Nalanda Masters (of Nalanda University) who taught that composite phenomenon are impermanent; everything defiled is suffering; and all phenomena are empty and without inherent entity.

Nirvana is peace. Therefore, acceptance is Buddhism. Non-acceptance is non-buddhism.

As soon as something arises, their very occurence ensures their cessation. Nothing can exist without arising and ceasing. Destruction starts as soon as it comes into existence. This is impermanence.

The most poisonous of all emotions is ignorance. This doesn’t just refer to not knowing, but also to misunderstanding. Being under the influence of ignorance is suffering. The cause of disturbing emotions is ignorance, the result is suffering. Ignorance make us cling to things as existence. The truth of the path is to realize the non-self.

The first of the Paramitas is Generosity. Generosity can be inappropriate and harmful so must be offered with the appropriate intention. It is the giving of material things as protection from fear. Sometimes generosity can induce fear in others rather than protect them from it. If you want to look good, all is lost because the ulterior motives are not pure. It becomes a sort of power play rather than true generosity.

Likewise, giving something in order to get is not generosity. It is the hope for reward and therefore is selfish. (Makes me think of Christians who do good works in order to be rewarded by God rather than doing good works to do good works.)

The second Paramita is Ethics. It is important to have determined self- confidence. This is very different than self-interest or self-cherishing. Without self-confidence, it is impossible to accomplish anything for the benefit of others. You must have self-confidence in order to develop the capacity to help someone else.

You must also conquer disturbing emotions. No matter what it is that happens to us, it can be turned into a virtue. This is how we maintain mindfulness in all practices.

The third Paramita is Patience. It is impossible to get rid of all harmful beings and suffering forever. But it is possible to tame one’s mind so that the perfection of patience takes place within one’s mind. Unfavorable situations will occur. There is nothing that can be done about that. We can only train our minds.

For instance, it is only if the weapon hits that body that we feel pain. If there is no weapon, there is no pain. If there is no body, there is no pain. Yet, we don’t get angry at the weapon or at the disturbing emotions that make someone use a weapon. We get angry at the person caught in the middle of the weapon and disturbing emotions. Eventually, the disturbing emotions will cease to be. So showing anger at the person is unjustified because the situation is temporary.

It is the presence of a beneficial intention itself that is the criterion for whether something is helpful or valuable. We make ourselves more miserable by getting angry. Patience creates happiness. Happiness, therefore, is the accumulation of merit. Taming ego clinging is what removes the condition of suffering.

The only way to patiently accept suffering is to create an attitude of acceptance. Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied? And what is the use of being unhappy if it cannot be remedied?

Compassion is to take upon oneself the suffering of others. How the world came about is secondary. What is primary is the suffering of beings. The main issue is how our disturbing emotions function.

(To be continued.)