Friday, February 26, 2010

Heaven and Earth and In Between

There is heaven and there is earth. In between: man. There is the perfection of God (the Tao, the Divine) and there is the imperfection of animals that live instinctively but cannot reason. In between, neither animal nor God but close to both: man. Man has one foot on earth, one foot in heaven. One foot in the visible, material world, one foot in the invisible, spiritual world. He can be lower than the stupidest animal or he can be a living saint. Sometimes in the same day. What a spectrum of possibilities exist for man!
That is why it is said that God exists inside of us, in the breast of every man (or woman). God exists in everything, surely, but only in man does he share his divine qualities and powers. Only man can embody God’s will and act for God on earth. Only he can help God finish the world. Only he can help God be God. But God leaves the choice up to him…

Helping God finish the world

Without human participation, God remains incomplete, unrealized. It is up to us to actualize the divine potential in the world. God needs us. Rabbi Daniel Matt

Rabbi Matt’s conclusion is rather startling. We usually think of God as in need of nothing. That is what is so appealing about Rabbi Matt’s mystical notion. Not only is the world unfinished without our partnership, even the divine self is incomplete without us.
That is quite a responsibility for us as humans. We have to complete the creation of the world, and we have to complete God. The latter is accomplished by making sure that the divine potential, which already exists in the world, is fully realized. And this can only happen when we are prepared to act accordingly. These are acts of kindness and goodness to those around us, those whom we know and love, and those whom we don’t know and don’t love.
Begin your day with blessing. Then make sure that all that you do in the hours that follow reflects what you have just uttered.

From Life’s Daily Blessings, by Rabbi Kerry M. Orlitzky

Photo of Christ the Redeemer from Wikimedia

Monday, February 22, 2010

I Ching for I Pod

After my trip to England last September I decided to buy an IPod mainly so I could carry my huge collection of photos around with me to show people. Only recently did I get around to browsing the App Store and discover the wealth of applications that are out there in Internet cyber space.
One of the first things I searched for was an I Ching app. There are many out there but unfortunately none, as far as I saw, based directly on the Wilhelm-Baynes book. However I found one that comes pretty darn close: the Yi Jing – Book of Changes, by Flat Earth Studio. You can see the Itunes Preview page here. Among the many book translations of the I Ching available in this app is A Guide to the I Ching, for the Wilhelm/Baynes translation by Carol K. Anthony. After the very first reading it becomes apparent that the author knows and understands the Wilhelm/Baynes I Ching very well and the readings are gratefully in harmony with that classic.
The app has many excellent features but rather than go into them here I will simply point you to the preview page which also includes an excellent overview by one of the commentators. However I will say that Flat Earth Studios have not only done a great job with the choice of content and the features but most of all the aesthetics of the app are tastefully done, not gaudy and clunky like many of the apps I looked at. The app cost 3.99$ but is well worth it if you are an I Ching user or would like to be.

I will leave you with an excerpt. I first consulted the I Ching (or Yi Jing, as the app is called) for advice about the best way to proceed on the financial front. Yes, I know what you are thinking: how shallow for a philosophy blogger. But from the Yiddish proverb, Love tastes sweet, but only with bread, we might create another: Philosophy tastes sweet, but only with bread.
Anyhow, to this question I received hexagram 52 ‘Keeping still, Mountain’ changing into 33 ‘Retreat’. In the ‘Changes’ section was this insightful commentary, which made a paricular impression on me:

The presence of desire causes unrest. Desire is a form of fear that we may not achieve our goal. This is ‘to anticipate the harvest while planting.’ We hardly ever desire what we are sure of having, and often desire what we think we cannot have. Thus, desire implies both doubt and envy. In letting go of desire, we bring the heart to rest and attain a higher level of tranquillity.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mending the World

Let’s take a break from the dark clouds and the doom and gloom. ‘Why are you writing about that stuff here anyway?’ you ask. ‘This is supposed to be a blog about philosophy and healing for goodness sake, I come here to get away from all that crazy stuff.’ Yep, you may have a point. But I talk about that crazy stuff because it is a consequence of bad philosophy. Just like for an individual, when a country and an economy are governed by short-term selfish immoral goals, bad consequences arise and suffering ensues. Eventually.
We have talked about this before: the swamp plant may grow fast and do well for a time, but it will not last. Only growth based on the firm soil of integrity is lasting and beneficial to all. What has happened in recent years is unacceptable to reasoning people and I feel winds of change are blowing and I feel a desire to give those winds of change a little help. So bear with me if I rant about bad philosophy in the world. I am reminded of this quote of many centuries ago:

Do you know, my son, with what little understanding the world is ruled? Pope Julius III (1487 – 1555)

Not many people see this blog but if only one person reads this post, who knows what tiny ripples of change may be set in motion?

So let us return to philosophy again for a moment and let me share with you a passage from an important little book I have discovered recently: Life’s Daily Blessings – Inspiring Reflections on Gratitude and Joy for Every Day, based on Jewish Wisdom by Rabbi Kerry M. Orlitzky. From compiling quotes for the blog, I have come across several Jewish proverbs and I always found them very succinct powerful and true. So when I fell on this book I was eager to learn more about the Jewish tradition. I was not disappointed. I share with you here a very appropriate passage for this blog and for this world today.

Mending the World

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, for giving us the opportunity to mend the world. Rabbi Ron Klotz

While this is not a traditional blessing – that is, not one of the lists of blessings penned by the Rabbis to be among the one hundred that are to be said each day – it certainly contains what might be called traditional sentiments. We are each obligated to help repair the brokenness in the world, and in others. Of course, we may be simply motivated to do so because it is the right thing to do. But we also want to recognize that when we do so, we are contributing to God’s work in the world. In repairing what is broken and working to bring perfection back to the world by healing it and those who inhabit it, we are acting as channels through which God’s presence flows into the world.
The blessing that Rabbi Klotz wrote acknowledges the sacredness of such an act. It is a privilege to join with God in order to fix what is broken in the world. But the world is not alone in its need of repair. When we contribute to fixing the world, we often end up healing what may be broken in ourselves.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Dark clouds over America - Captain Bernanke and the Navy Rule

I recently read Paul B. Farrell’s article Warning: Captain Bernanke sinking the USS Titanic just before the reconfirmation of Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve Chairman. Farrell compares Bernanke to Captain Queeg in the film ‘The Caine Mutiny’. I’m not familiar with the film but I can imagine Captain Queeg has some issues.

Worse, Obama's giving ol' Capt. Ben a second chance to pilot into new icebergs dead ahead. The Economist calls them "asset bubbles." Problem? Capt. Ben can't see through his ideological Greenspan/Reaganomics goggles, clouded by his obsessive allegiance to Wall Street's "fat cat bankers."
Nothing new: He failed to see warnings of "icebergs" back in 2007. Yes, and he'll miss any new icebergs, sink the global economy and plunge the world into the eerie depths of the Great Depression 2.

Farrell goes on to quote Jeremy Grantham in his recent letter to investors ‘Lessons Not Learned: On Redesigning Our Current Financial System.’

"Imagine the company representatives on the Titanic II design committee repeatedly pointing out that the Titanic I tragedy was a black swan event: utterly unpredictable and completely, emphatically, not caused by any failures of the ship's construction, of the company's policy, or of the captain's competence. 'No one could have seen this coming' would have been their constant refrain.'"
Sound familiar? You bet. Capt. Ben's "Titanic II design committee" would include his ol' buddies, Alan Greenspan, Henry Paulson, Lawrence Summers and Tim Geithner. "Their response would have been to spend their time pushing for more and improved lifeboats," says Grantham.

I have liked Jeremy Grantham ever since I saw him in this far-reaching interview at Wealthtrack after the meltdown last year (which I encourage you to watch in its entirety to get valuable insight into what has happened in this crisis, including utter condemnation of Greenspan and his protégé Bernanke). My favourite Grantham quote from the interview is this:

Interviewer: New rules of investing: is permanent bullishness about equities out?

I certainly hope it’s out. I like to say that in the short term we learn an enormous amount from these crises, and in the intermediate term we learn a little, and in the long term we learn absolutely nothing.

So a ‘nearly dysfunctional Congress’ dominated by special interests has plucked the Captain of the Titanic from the sea and has promptly given him command of a new ship. ‘Is that wise?’ you may ask. By pure coincidence I came across the following from (Warren Buffet’s partner) Charlie Munger’s book ‘Poor Charlie’s Almanac’:

I like the Navy’s system. If you’re a captain in the Navy and you’ve been up for twenty-four hours straight and have to go to sleep and you turn the ship over to a competent first mate in tough conditions and he takes the ship aground – clearly through no fault of yours – they don’t court-martial you, but your naval career is over.
You can say, ‘That’s too tough. That’s not law school. That’s not due process.’ Well, the Navy model is better in its context than would be the law school model. The Navy model really forces people to pay attention when conditions are tough – because they know that there’s no excuse.
It doesn’t matter why your ship goes aground, your career is over. Nobody’s interested in your fault. It’s just a rule that we happen to have – for the good of all, all effects considered.
I like some rules like that. I think that civilization works better with some of these no-fault rules. But that stuff tends to be anathema around law schools. ‘It’s not due process. You’re not really searching for justice.’
Well, I am searching for justice when I argue for the Navy rule – for the justice of fewer ships going aground.

Well, in the case of Captain Bernanke the Navy rule would doubly apply: the Captain was at the helm of his ship the whole time and was fully responsible for running the ship aground. The Captain would have been court-martialed, found guilty and dismissed the service. Next case. Instead, here we are again with the same captain, doomed to live through the whole scenario again. As Grantham points out, in the long term we learn absolutely nothing.

Image from Jeremy

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond