Sunday, 27 July 2014
written by Denis Kurmanov
This year has become a year of violence and disaster across the globe. Relations between everybody are deteriorating, histories are repeating each other and innocent people are being killed—Ukraine, Gaza, Israel, Russia, and the countless others that don’t make it to the front pages each night. I think to myself constantly about what I would say to a crowd of people, if somebody would listen to a lowly person like myself. (I am not saying that in any sort of ironic or dramatic affect, our voices have become much softer because gunfire speaks a language, unfortunately, those in political control, keep teaching the world.)
So I am going to say it, I’m going to post it here and have at least one other person see this and influence them……you……in such a way that we can stop this.
This is of course a dream of peace and compassion that I have based on a naïve view of who we are and what we can become.
That is what some will say back. They will say I am naïve and can only dream of some sort of peace and compassion that existed between nations for more than just a few years or so, but for ages. But you what, at this point, why not? What do we have to lose? Here it goes.
Remember your families in this time and remember from where they came. My mother told me a story about her father today. I hadn’t known where he was born (in a city named Orenburg in Russia). She was born in Uzbekistan and I was born in Moldova yet we are all of the same blood. To who can I pledge my allegiance? My father’s family is Russian but for about three generations was born in Uzbekistan. My mother’s family is Jewish and descends from Poland and Latvia. My father’s family was Central-Asian (near the borders of Turkey even) and converted to Russian Orthodoxy a long time ago.
To whom can I pledge allegiance? If I was to believe in any of your causes, my friends, I would have to believe in all of your causes. You, you, you are all my kin in some way. Our histories are filled with movement just as our spirits are bursting at the seems and are urging to move and to become something different each day. Sometimes this different takes place with a human that you’d never had expected, sometimes it takes you to the corners of the world you only heard about when learning “lessons.”
My kin, my brothers and sisters, to whom do you pledge allegiance? To death? Listen to the cries and breath my friends the salty air of the seas then speak. Scream and fire into the air with your weapons, cry out to God, pray for endless day, eat, drink, destroy status quos and set up ideals while spray painting on the walls of every building!
Who rules your spirit my friends? Revenge? Conflict? Hate? Who has the power over your own veins? That which wants your veins to dry out and only descend to dust, and not to another life of something else.
My friends, welcome to this world of awkwardness and derangement, welcome to the mess every single one of us is in. Tell yourselves and each other your stories of what you have experienced. We are of spirit and agility—our families have lived through strange eras of time and also times of good fortune. Beside the movement my family experienced there was a lot of death, early death for those who most would believe it is to early to die. A mother and child die together, a teen drinks himself to death because there is something out there he has to hate. He hates himself and hates everybody around him.
My friends I am not calling you immature or stupid, ignorant, outlandish or even evil. I am calling you humans and therefore I know the capacities we have for each other because we share it with each other each day. We can sit and smoke our hookahs in the streets with those who point the gun at the same target. Point up and scream then smoke the hookahs together. Speak to each other and welcome in agility and spirit that is not just within, it exists in the streets of even the horrid of places.
Who do you pledge allegiance to? To leaders who do not speak with us on terms we understand? The law is just until it violates us but rulers who toy with their citizens can and must be non-violently put down. It is a dangerous thing, my friends, to stand up to a gun with the indestructible iris of the eye. The iris of the eye is much deeper than the barrel of any gun my friends for it contains the abysses of ourselves, all of us, the evil and the beautiful. This can overwhelm the weapons my friends, trust me.
I crave a certain food and which one of you can make it? All of you? To whom do you pledge allegiance? Do a cause that denies food and culture to a people—conflict, a waste of time and food, or to the sizzling of the shawarmas, souvlakis and all the lamb you can imagine…..
Who will feed you in the hour of need? A human. Two will fall together with opposite ideals that govern them but when the irises of the eye meet they can overwhelm this. There is enough room for both of their violation and of their antiquity, and I mean the beauty of them both, for them to sit, stare, eat, speak and put down the weapons.
Welcome to this world of pain and dissatisfaction but also welcome to the only opportunity you will ever have to make things okay!
Welcome to the mazes that we play and that we are tossed into and welcome to the only way out—a cooperation of all.
Pledge allegiance to each other and therefore God, and therefore the goodness of ourselves. Pledge allegiance to the capability we have to eat and drink our teas together. Pledge allegiance to our children who have nothing to do with this but stand to lose their lives.
Pledge allegiance to this world of wonder and of awe. Stare up into the skies and see, even the smoke we have created. What a marvel to behold; ah, and welcome to the only chance we have to ever conquer hope and end her existence by making all we hope for possible….this shared world.
Thank you for listening
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Saturday, 26 July 2014
written by Denis Kurmanov
Greetings my friends,
I am going to quote a rather large portion of Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and Reality which is probably the single most influential book in the way I view and experience the world. Let me be quite honest—reading Whitehead is not easy and occasionally brings about no consequence, his terming of common ideas throws much of Western thought right out the window and supposes and very, very different “structure” to this world. I have read this book and only “understood” certain chapters and even maybe only certain parts of certain chapters. What he coined is called “process philosophy” which I will discuss in this post and expound upon in my own interpretation of this world which is also (and obviously) influenced greatly by Zen Buddhism (Masao Abe and Dogen specifically for those who are interested in discovering more of my influences).
(I hate to deviate for a moment but I must say something about Dogen—his writing and views are certainly just as difficult to understand as Whitehead’s but his importance to Buddhism and Zen specifically cannot be ignored. I believe strongly that a “process perspective” reading of Dogen does him great justice and illuminates greatly what he said and how he acted.)
Without further ado, let us begin.
This quotation is taken from Section V of the chapter called “Process” from Process and Reality which was edited and put together by David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne. I will give a precise citation to the book at the end of this post.
To sum up: There are two species of process, macroscopic process and microscopic process. The macroscopic is the transition from attained actuality in attainment; while the microscopic process is the conversion of conditions where are merely real into determinate actuality. The former process effects the transition from the ‘actual’ to the actual. The former process is efficient; the latter process is teleological. The future is merely real, without being actual; where as the past is a nexus of actualities. The actualities are constituted by their real genetic phases. The present is the immediacy of teleological process whereby really govern attainment; where as the latter process provides the ends actually attained. The notion of ‘organism’ is combined with that of ‘process’ in a twofold manner. The community of actual things is an organism; but it is not a static organism. It is an incompletion in process of production. Thus the expansion of the universe in respect to actual things is the first meaning of ‘process’; and the universe in any stage of its expansion is the first meaning of ‘organism.’ In this sense, an organism is a nexus.
Secondly, each actual entity itself only describable as an organic process. It repeats in microcosm what the universe is in macrocosm. It is a process proceeding from phase to phase, each phase being the real basis in question. Each actual entity bears in its constitution the ‘reasons’ why its conditions are what they are. These ‘reasons’ are the other actual interties objectified for it.
An ‘object’ is a transcendent element characterizing that definiteness to which our ‘experience’ has to conform. In this sense, the future has objective reality in the present, but no formal actuality. For it is inherent in the constitution of the immediate, present actuality that a future will supersede it. Also conditions to which future must conform, including real relationships to the present, are really objective in the immediate actuality.
Thus each actual entity, although complete so far as concerns its microscopic process, is yet incomplete by reason of its objective inclusion of the macroscopic process. It really experiences a future which must be actual, although the completed actualities of that future are undermined. In this sense, each actual occasion experiences its own immortality.
Okay! I would like to congratulate you on finishing that quote and I am also extremely sorry that of all books, quotes, thinkers, etc. I chose this damn near unreadable one.
If you were somewhat moved by this or are even more curious to what this means here are a few links that will help you (even though I will certainly explain it to my best ability):
Rev. Dr. Charles W. Allen’s website:
The first power-point presentation, “Process thought: A very basic introduction” is extremely helpful.
The Wikipedia page on process philosophy:
I know that wiki pages are occasionally full of total misinterpretations but after scanning the sources and giving the post a good read, it is comprehensive, understandable and helpful as well.
Whitehead very adamantly rejected the idea that “objects” and “substances” existed at all and believed that everything was event. “All things flow” is a quote from Heraclitus which Whitehead claims (and I agree) is the most basic and fundamental aspect of reality. This goes well with the Buddhist doctrine that change is constant and effects all things constantly.
Since all things are events and things are in constant movement “moments” push themselves forward, perpetuating their existence and continually seek a ‘reason’ to exist at all. Their fulfillment is in the future but that also becomes an infinite loop making Time immortal, constantly wanting to Become more and more.
My writing this post began with the idea that popped into my mind which moved into an outline which moved into my beginning to write this which will move onto a completion and an influence to myself and to you—and then on and on and on unto the ages of ages. No rock, no human, no dog, deer, insect, star, no anomaly is “safe” from this. Buddhism rejects a view of the future and says that is unreal, which it is, but only in certain ways. We continue to become whether we want to or not and things are constantly moving, fulfilling themselves and undermining each other, the past, present and future.
What does this have to do with Buddhism? Delusion and history specifically are of importance here because delusion, as understood in Buddhism, is something that I have trouble with. Delusion is viewed as a way of life, a view of reality, and something unreal even though it participates constantly with the real, influences the real, is influenced by the real. This is a dualism which I’d like to say is a delusion itself.
Yes, I did just say that the understanding of delusion that Buddhism has is a delusion itself!
This is where I shall begin, in a way, again. How do we judge the experiences of others? Western philosophy in a totality can be understood as a delusion according to some more intensive interpretations of delusion in Buddhism and that, frankly, just isn’t fair to the billions of people who have lived their life in this way. I am not saying that they were in “complete” understanding of reality because a “complete” understanding is impossible since, as Whitehead (a Western thinker after all) stated himself that reality perpetuates and undermines itself constantly. I agree with him and so delusion can be undermined with experience and experience undermined with delusion.
A man may live a billionaire, honestly believe he made it there on his very own and also believes that morality doesn’t exist and that sympathy and emotion are in the way of a good life for him (and for others?) He believes that things don’t change; reality was the same when it began as it is now, that rocks are solid and the sun will forever rise in the East and set in the West.
The sun will not always exist and it moves in degrees somewhat North and South each day and each year, changing and only appearing to us to be in the same location.
This is a “wrong” view according to an insurmountable amount of people yet he lives like this until he meets his final resting place. Was he completely unaware of the reality around him? Was he just off in his “own little world” and just spewing hate, inequality, etc? Will this “delusion” come to an end ever? Will this view of the world just evolve into the “right” view as more and more people become aware of how “reality really is.”
First of all—the phrase “how the world really works,” “the way reality really is” etc makes no sense to me; it is not comprehensive, it is not common to all people and it certainly does not accept the idea of change. I must give credit to this man for at the very least being alive and attempting to live and respond to what experience has given him and what experiences he had on his own. The “delusion” he is living in is the real world to him so simply stating, even with argument, that he is having fake experiences is not a Buddhist thing, or a nice thing to say. Delusion “exists” (oxymoron and paradox) in this real world and is the experience of many.
How do we give credit to humanity in this experience and how do we correct the man who has given his entire life to this view?
We acknowledge his reality as a participant in what “reality really is:” a flux, a river, a movement. He is wrong and right at the same time! He lived therefore he is correct. But he lived in constant opposition to what most Buddhists and many other religious and non-religious people believe. His life was a nexus for the life that I and you live that perpetuates and brings this world even closer. I am giving him credit as so far as he made it possible to see the other side of his life, one that incorporates all, seems more consistent with experience of all and one that continues on after his death, our death, everything’s death. This is not delusion—it is distinction. Separation and distinction are very, very important to understand. I am a particular human being in this world but I am not separate from this world. A letter in an essay, a word in an essay, a paragraph in an essay can all be distinguished from the totality but the totality still is there, as a whole. Parts and “microcosms” are important to analyze and understand in our pursuit of a mindful existence and participation in this world.
Buddhism has a lot of trouble understanding History and the significance it brings when looking at the future and the present moment. Without the particular occurrence of events the possibility of this moment would not exist. Understood in macro-terms Time can be flipped around, moved, reciprocated etc but can never be replaced in micro-terms because love, mercy, compassion and justice are here, in the present and cannot simply be flipped around, moved, reciprocated etc. They, and their antitheses, can only be viewed from the micro-perspective. I will agree with Buddhism and state that must of our efforts have been analyzing these micro-perspectives and then assumed to be exactly the same in the macro-perspective. I will also agree with Western thought that Buddhism focuses too much on the macro-perspective, assuming that the way the universe works and “ought” to work is the exact same way that we work and “ought to work.” These perspectives are distinctions and not separations and we must be very careful in understanding this because we may fall into the belief that most of experience has been a delusion whereas no experience is a delusion, it can be inconsistent, illogical, unethical and so forth but never unreal. Plato stated that anything that has power has a reality and everything has power (therefore nothing has power) therefore everything is real. Here comes another distinction: being real and existing.
I am implying a pragmatic view of Truth here. Truth is in the future and consequentially in the present and partially in the past (since truth moves with time, it must undergo the same change that we all do). I do not change much from the last word I wrote to this one and thus truth, too, moves slowly but it certainly does. Delusion cannot be understood to be Absolute and an Arch reigning over our experiences and our minds cannot constantly be battling this world of delusion and expect to attain or Become anything at all except anxious and lost.
Delusion, experience and the processes of the reality we participate in is all in an infinite loop:
and that is not to state that it repeats itself: but undermines and participates with itself constantly perpetuating itself forward. This is everything’s experience in a nutshell which means a person across the world may be undermining this post at this very moment but if they weren’t, this post wouldn’t be possible. A solidarity of Belief is not possible but only a solidarity of a pragmatic, plural perspective.
History matters because it has brought us here—atrocities from the past must be learned and analyzed just as much as the bliss that the past experienced as well. To believe in a world where Delusion reigns over peoples’ lives is hateful because it takes away the dignity and respect that Buddhism fundamentally offers to all sentient beings, claiming that their right of experience is at the very least, real, and therefore worthy of Becoming something more beautiful, a lotus, and a laughter that brings about an attainment of the Way.
Abe, Masao, and William R. LaFleur. Zen and Western thought. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985. Print
Cobb, John B.. The Emptying God: a Buddhist-Jewish-Christian conversation. Ltd. ed. Eugene, OR.: Wipf & Stock, 2005. Print.
Cobb, John B., and David Ray Griffin. Process theology: an introductory exposition. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976. Print.
Dewey, John, and John J. McDermott. The philosophy of John Dewey. Phoenix ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. Print.
Dogen, Zenji. Shōbōgenzō: the true Dharma-eye treasury. Berkeley, Calif.: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2007. Print.
Whitehead, Alfred North, and David Ray Griffin. "Process." Process and reality: an essay in cosmology. Corrected ed. New York: Free Press, 1978. . Print.
Part II: Meditation and Art will be coming soon!
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Friday, 25 July 2014
written by Denis Kurmanov
This will not be an exposition on the varieties of “middle ways” that are in Buddhism: substantialism and nihilism, hedonism and asceticism, monastic life and lay-life or any other “ism” and its polar opposite. I’d rather talk about life and how we ought to live.
The word “ought” is detested in much of Zen literature but we ask it anyway because this question drills within our brains and hearts and wreaks chaos in the streets of the wealthy and of the poor.
How ought we live?
The brilliance behind the contempt that Zen (and other forms of Buddhism) has for the question is precisely that answering this question is impossible. We’re given all the conditions, qualifications, thought, cognition and are susceptible to an extensive amalgam of experiences that range from basic hair being blown in the wind as we drive down the street to the most tragic trenches that war has ever conjured. We are given everything. We are given life. Yet we can’t answer the question of how we ought to live through the mazes.
I have tortured myself reading books that fully acknowledge the difficulty of this question but then attempt to somehow systematize theory, method, facts, histories, etc etc into a neat concerto that “promises” the answer.
Some of these fantastical and fantastic works bring forth full orchestras and choirs who stir up all the right feelings and emotions and whose tonics, keys, mood and so forth are all aligned quite well with what we can call “common experience.” Some are not so good. They give us scripted codes of conduct or even reject logical thought entirely and appease to the chaos of existence. They claim that we’re isolated from each other and are in infinite regression when it comes to understanding this world and how we fit into it; they toy with our histories as if it was all some kind of game.
Life is not a game, but it is a joke. Life can be a good joke or a bad one depending on the circumstances.
The whole purpose of this post is to discover a route to which we can believe that life is a joke that doesn’t have infinite regression but infinite progression—for there is no other way. The Middle Way is the only way because it is our context and there is no going back to anything, it’s too late for that. In fact, I can’t even go back to the same person that I was when I began writing this sentence.
So what the hell am I talking about? In one way I am talking about ethics and in another way I am talking about ontology. Remember my friends, this is the Middle Way, and there will be some of everything within.
How are you, my friend, who is reading this post now, going to lift yourself from the screen and walk your next step; how are we all together going to walk hand in hand in this paradoxical, illogical, and all those other things that confuse us thing we call Life.
Some say that we should focus only on ourselves for if we focus our efforts strictly inward then all societies will flourish because each is, if not capable of taking care of someone else, is capable of taking care of oneself. This way of thinking is evil and I will not spend time debasing this argument and belief.
Some say that we ought to give ourselves up entirely to the community, that solidarity’s price is ourselves but is the only way to achieve peace. If we annihilate our own desires and approach the next step with only the desires of all then there will be peace. This way of thinking is evil and I will not spend time debasing this argument and belief.
The middle way between those two striking polar opposites is where we really begin our discussion because we know that the only way is both ways.
I must take care of myself while I take care of others. Most of us have heard the argument that when we take care of others we take care of ourselves and I certainly show sympathy to this argument but it’s truth is not quantifiable. This is an emotional ideal that perpetuates itself through those we call “good.” Another question to ask regarding this view is what is the consequence of such a life? The conditions vary moment to moment so the consequences of this life can be deeply tragic and also deeply moving. What we want to do now is to find how we can make this sort of way of life moving but also not annihilating ourselves to some ideal that might only be within our heads.
This is why I say that life is a joke. If we take our ideals too seriously they fail because laughter, humor, love cannot exist in some scripted system that “promises the answer.” We laugh because there is joy and disaster. I am certainly not saying that we laugh at disaster but rather in the face of disaster. It is an undermining of precisely the predicament we are in: Life. Jewish humor is well known and is extremely funny—but do Jewish communities have anything to laugh about given their histories and current circumstances? Certainly, they have life. The absurdity of life should bring laughter and not despair (as so many existentialists believed). We are all going to die—we will not experience anything more for the rest of Time, our bodies will decay and we will probably be forgotten. Our sleep will be dreamless, eternal, and final. We can respond to this in a few ways: we can despair regarding this given, we can reject it and live hedonistically, or we can acknowledge the fact and then begin to laugh.
Think about this my friends, it’s rather important. We are “living dyingly” (to steal the brilliant phrase from Christopher Hitchens). We’re doing both. This isn’t a puzzle that we have to solve or a game that we’re playing through to reach the pot of gold at the end, this is ongoing life that we’re trying to make our way through. In each moment we become more alive and in each moment we die a little more.
How ought we to live?
Humor and laughter alone cannot conquer war, hunger, discrimination of every kind, death, or life. I like to believe that when we are born, we are so overtaken by existence that we are fully alive and completely dead in that moment. We need to cry and despair over certain things because only then can we begin to laugh. After we laugh, we begin to cry. Tears of joy and happiness are never very far apart.
So how you live from this moment on in the Middle Way? You can look up into the sky and start bawling your eyes our begin laughing hysterically and some do, but I caution, doing so can often spark strange reactions.
You can have an emotional solidarity with the people around you in pursuit of the next step of the infinite progression of love, compassion, mercy, and justice. You can abandon solidarity to your kin entirely and begin your own work of Art. Painting, writing, drawing, screaming at the top of your lungs at the top of a skyscraper, singing into a microphone etc is a way to express the freedom that the joke of life gives us. Ought we choose between the two? Emotional solidarity versus an artistic freedom that abandons the world around you (in non-dualistic, co-originating ways of course).
We cannot choose because the separation of emotional solidarity and personal freedom is not possible. There are certainly distinctions between the two but one cannot function without the other. To be in solidarity is to respond and to continue step-by-step in your understanding that everyone around you has the same freedom as you do. To be free is to live a particular life and because you are you—you have a name, you have a body, material, thought, history, emotions, conditions is to live in solidarity with all others. You could not be an “I” (which in some ways you’re not [we won’t talk about that here now]) without everything and everyone else. This is certainly nothing new.
How ought we to live?
We must continue in equilibrium of the two via an understanding that This World must strive for humor, love, peace, and justice and that separating those is never ever possible. We must push forward to communion with each other and “ourselves” in shared laughter in comedy clubs (emotional solidarity) and through journal writing in code that nobody but one person can understand (personal freedom).
Can we systematize and give a script for this? No. Many have given advice on how to conduct ourselves in personal situations and in “public” situations. Sometimes the advice overlaps but sometimes it doesn’t, leaving us having to choose when our experience is “public” and when it is “private.” I said we must continue in equilibrium and I say that because the distinction between the “public” and “personal” are like the waves of an ocean. We can tell each wave apart but that wave is not separated from the rest of the ocean. It’s actions influence the rest of the ocean and the rest of the ocean influences the action of that one wave on the beach. Storms take place and waves cram up upon each other and destroy landscapes, but, without a little wind, no waves would be possible in the first place.
This is the middle way. A perspective, a method, a laughter and despair that we have about life that overwhelms us on occasion, and also gives us utter confidence and understanding of the world around us and ourselves. To continue to do this is to live in particularly ethical ways (which I will leave for the ethicists). To deviate from this path is to enter something that will not be fulfilling, will destroy, and abandon you on the beach as dead seaweed is left to rot.
This is all I can call it as well, a path, a path of living dyingly in which each moment is filled with the question: How ought we to live? And the answer In This World.
I did not define freedom because I don’t believe it can be defined precisely, it can only be lived out and experienced.
The idea of emotion is similar to sentiment but rather than stating that it’s an obstacle, I say that it is an equal player in how we discover moment by moment how we ought to live.
I an aware that nation-states and all sorts of other communities are faced with very particular dilemmas and my argument is that an understanding of life accordingly will thus spring forth an ethic that is centered around love, compassion, mercy, and justice. I do not provide these ethics because I am too unfamiliar with cultural systems and sentiments, political schematics, and all the variables that go into play when deciphering a more “precise” way of living.
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