Thursday, June 15, 2017

Freedom, Religion

A couple of days ago I read a discussion between some friends regarding religion, worship, freedom, and slavery. In Farsi and Arabic, the terms for worship and slavery have the same root, so that worship means giving up one's freedom in the service of God. Today, I came across the following paragraph in another John Burdett novel (Bangkok Tattoo) I am reading (Hudson is a CIA agent in the novel, the narrator is a Thai detective whose mother, formerly a prostitute, owns a bar/brothel, and Hudson is in love with the mother):
One night, after the two a.m. curfew, the bar is empty save for Hudson and me. He is drunker than I've seen before, though still more or less in control. Sitting on a stool, he starts to talk, as if continuing a conversation, probably with himself:
``Freedom? What kind of dumb all-purpose Band-Aid is that?'' With pleading eyes: ``I mean, what are we selling exactly? Money is the state religion of the West. We pray to it every waking minute---and we're gonna make damned sure every last human on earth gets down on their knees with us. All our wars are wars of religion.'' ...   ---p. 202, Bangkok Tattoo, John Burdett 
The modern/Western man is proud of his freedom, even though he worships (i.e., is in the service of, slave to) money!

PS 1. [2017-06-21]. A bit more on American life from the same book (spoken by the same character, Hudson):

``Most people won't stay in the Agency very long. It's like any other job in the states---American's get restless, bored, enraged that their talents are not properly appreciated. We move on. We move on---change the view every ten minutes, and you can convince yourself for a while that you've escaped the treadmill. But not forever. After a certain specific moment in life, you start to look back. You discern a pattern. Something ugly, manic, cramped, tortured, and repetitive. That pattern is what you are, what your culture has made of you. But that's not a reason for giving up. ... It's not a reason for changing sides. You got to soldier on, right or wrong. How you ever gonna know how wrong you are, how you ever gonna learn your life's lesson, if you're just a feather in the wind? You gotta suck it all up---there's no other way.''  ---p. 232, Bangkok Tattoo, John Burdett 

PS 2. [2017-7-17] . I am finishing the book and here are parts of the last chapter that appeared very interesting to me:

In the cab on the way back, in a jam on the outskirts of Krung Thep, I ask the driver to tune in to RodTitFM. Visit is interviewing a famous abbot from one of our forest monasteries:

Pisit to abbot: The more I think about Thailand, the more it drives me insane---I mean, totally crazy, insane, mad.
Abbot: Because of our overwhelming problems?
Pisit: Yes, our overwhelming problems, exactly.
Abbot: Which problems are you most overwhelmed by?
Pisit: All of them.
Abbot: Excuse me, but are you really expressing yourself accurately? Is it not more precise to say that it is not the problems that are overwhelming---after all, they are just problems out there somewhere---but the difficulty in solving those problems?
Pisit, resignedly: If you like, yes, the difficulty in solving them.
Abbot (with satisfaction): Ah, then Buddhism can indeed help you. At first I though it could not, but now I am pleased to say that it can.
Pisit: Yes?
Abbot: Well, it's very simple. It is not the country's problems that overwhelm you but your egoistic belief that you can be instrumental in solving them.

A scream from Pisit, then silence. ---p. 301, Bangkok Tattoo, John Burdett

Nirvana: We look out on the world and we see only a dust-laden collection of homemade symbols. Those that fit our prejudice of the moment we keep, the rest we dump. We are distracted by distraction by distraction. Nothing is happening. Nothing has happened. Nothing will happen. Emptiness is the ultimate challenge; identity is for suckers. Says the Buddha: All meaning is realized, the universe is nirvanic. ---p. 302, Bangkok Tattoo, John Burdett

Friday, June 09, 2017

Violent Buddhism

I am reading a couple of novels by John Burdett which feature a Buddhist Thai detective. Here are some interesting excerpts:

``Whatever little mind picture you've got of me by now, kid, you better dump them. I don't have an ego. Those Chinese burned every little bit of it out of me ... there was no way I was going to spend the next sixty years dragging a bleeding, damaged, heartbroken, resentful, miserable stump of ego around. ...'' ---p. 347, The Godfather of KathmanduJohn Burdett

``You thought you would play the martyr, get yourself a permanent seat in nirvana in return for your sacrifice, your undeniable stinking goodness? What are you, some kind of Sunday Christian? Didn't I already make it clear that good isn't good enough? ... Good is even harder to kick than evil. They are a duality, you know that, you don't get one without the other. ... And anyway, you have no right to deprive me of my karma. It's all me driving this. This is my moment, not yours, so who the fuck are you to screw it all up because you can't live with yourself? If you can't live with yourself, dump your self.'' ---p. 346, The Godfather of KathmanduJohn Burdett

``[Clive of India] was the first to make the connection between arms and narcotics. This little thug from Shropshire, who would certainly have been hanged if he'd stayed in England, saw the way to finance a whole private army, and the model proved so effective they repeated it all over the world: narcotics, slaves, and weapons. It's the great tripod upon which our global civilization continues to be based, even if they have changed the labels and the slaves get health insurance. The plain fact is, the sociopathic nature of the modern corporation started then and there with Clive. ... '' ---p. 345, The Godfather of KathmanduJohn Burdett

Wednesday, May 03, 2017


Before ten thousand steps, I
squint my eyes for the
Temple suspended in clouds


... three men traveled together, a Christian, a Muslim, and A Buddhist. They were good friends, and when they discussed spiritual matters, they seemed to agree on all points. Only when they turned their gaze on the outer world did their perception differ. One day they passed over a mountain ridge to behold a fertile and populated valley below.
``How strange,'' said the Christian. ``In Village One down there the villagers are all fast asleep, whereas in Village Two they are lost in a hideous orgy of sin.''
``You are quite wrong,'' said the Muslim, ``in Village One everyone is in a perpetual state of ecstasy, whereas in Village Two everyone is asleep.''
``Idiots,'' said the Buddhist. ``There is only one village and only one set of villagers. They are dreaming themselves in and out of existence.'' ---p. 46, Bangkok Tattoo, John Burdett

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Roots of Evil

I have been developing a novel structure of concepts around the theme of ``the functions and responsibilities of the rational, conscious mind.'' Among these concepts are those related to roots of evil. I saw a book in the public library today that caught my attention, ``Hitler: The pathology of Evil,'' by Geroge Victor. He is apparently of the Jewish faith and therefore much less inhibited in his analyses. Here are some excerpts:

Why the pessimism of Bullock and others about understanding Hitler, and why the lack of progress after fifty years? Some difficulties in understanding him have been mentioned [My note: `his secrecy and deceptiveness' is mentioned before]; another is that key pieces of his story are offensive. That he was a sadist is accepted, but that he was also a masochist---equally important in his acts of state---is not. Particularly difficult is the matter of his victimization in childhood. For many people, seeing him as a victim--a figure calling for sympathy---is unacceptable. In addition, writers have been careful about offending Jews by suggesting that Hitler's anti-Semitism was linked to his identification of himself as Jewish. His ethnic ancestry was German, probably also Czech, and possibly also Jewish. No more can be established, but there is ample evidence that Hitler thought of himself as Jewish in the core of is being---in his ``poisoned'' and ``diseased'' blood. Still another difficulty in explaining Hitler is concern that understanding him may lead to forgiveness, to condoning actions of the Third Reich, and to weakening bulwarks against such destructive convulsion. Taking the opposite position---that understanding is the best protection against a repetition---an attempt is made here to give the fullest possible description of Hitler's personality in order to explain the destructiveness of the Third Reich. ---p. 9, Hitler: The pathology of EvilGeroge Victor

By the time he was an adult, Hitler hated his father, and with ample reason. That hatred, along with self-loathing, ruled his life. ....
The idea of evil coming from a Jewish father also provided an explanation for Hitler's own troubles. Growing up with self-loathing---``rotten to the marrow'' were his words---Hitler found the cause in his ancestry, which he believed had poisoned his marrows. ... ---p.18, Hitler: The pathology of EvilGeroge Victor

... The overprotected child gets limited experience in self-reliance and tends to feel weak, vulnerable, and defective---incapable of managing without help, dependent on others for rescue from predicaments.
The effects of devotion and overprotection were soon evident. Adolf was a bright boy, learning rapidly---the only child in the family to grow up highly intelligent, talented ambitious, or grandiose. He also grew up extremely insecure. ---p. 25, Hitler: The pathology of EvilGeroge Victor

... The usual reaction of a boy who sees his father beating his mother is fear, an impulse to intervene, and shame about the failure to do so. As an adult, Adolf reportedly would have a recurrent nightmare in which a Jew menaced a woman and Adolf failed to intervene, feeling humiliated. Recurrent dreams come from a childhood trauma.
Frequent or severe punishment conveys to children that they are evil. Being nearly killed by parents conveys that they are unworthy to live. Adolf began to experience himself as evil and worthless---feelings he would describe in middle age and be troubled by until his death. ---p. 29, Hitler: The pathology of EvilGeroge Victor

Friday, January 13, 2017


I have come across a strange novel by Diane Schoemperlen, ``Our Lady of the Lost and Found: A Novel of Mary, Faith, and Friendship.'' Here are some quotes from the beginning:

This first stage of writing a book involves a lot of thinking time which, to the uninitiated, appears to be a lot of time wasted doing nothing more than looking out the window. --- p.28, Our Lady of the Lost and Found, Dian Schoemperlen
This is exactly the story of my past few years. Maybe I am writing a book without even knowing myself!?! :)

 ... Studying laundry on a line strikes me as a suburban version of reading palms, tea leaves, or tarot cards, a method of divination useful in determining not so much the past or the future but the present, which, to my way of thinking, is a state every bit as occult and enigmatic as the other two, requiring, but seldom accorded, equal measures of interpretation and exegesis. --- p.28, Our Lady of the Lost and FoundDian Schoemperlen
A beautiful interpretation of present and deciphering the meaning behind it. Small signs like this indicate that the author has felt something!! :)

And the following are quotes from the epigraphs of the book:


The irony of writing about such an experience in the modern era is such that, if I say to people, ``This really happened,'' not unreasonably, they will be inclined to doubt me. They might suspect me of boasting, or assume that I have lost my mind. If I say, ``I imagined it, I made it up, it's fiction''---only then they are free to believe it.
                                                   --- Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace

Ultimately, I have found it is meaningless to hold the yardstick of fact against the complexities of the human heart. Reality simply isn't large enough to hold us.
                                          --- A. Manette Ansay, River Angel
--- p. xi, Our Lady of the Lost and FoundDian Schoemperlen
I love the sense of suspension of reality here.

Finally, this paragraph is filled with a hidden sense of sadness and heaviness:

Day after day, week after week, year after year, I went on with my life in the usual secular way: making meals, making beds, making books, making promises, decisions, and mistakes, making my own dogged way in the world, with all of these divine images stowed away somewhere in the intricate folds of my brain. They were like dream images, those ones that are so vivid when you first wake up in the morning, and then within minutes they begin to fade until, by the time you get the coffee made, they have disappeared completely and you are left with nothing more than an uneasy sense of having lost something but you cannot say what. --- p. 48, Our Lady of the Lost and FoundDian Schoemperlen

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Lies and Shadows, Silence and Time

Two quotes from ``Ceremony,'' Leslie Marmon Silko's masterpiece.

The first one is long and about the lies with harbor deep inside and shadows:

... He had a crazy desire to believe that there has been some mistake, that Floyd Lee had gotten them innocently, maybe buying them from the real thieves. Why did he hesitate to accuse a white man of stealing but not a Mexican or an Indian? He took off his gloves and stuck his hands inside his jacket to wipe the broken blisters on his shirt. Sweat made the raw skin sting all the way up both arms, leaving his shoulders with a dull ache. He knew then he had learned the lie by heart---the lie which they had wanted him to learn: only brown-skinned people were thieves: white people didn't steal, because they always had the money to buy whatever they wanted.

The lie. He cut into the wire as if cutting away at the lie inside himself. The liars have fooled everyone, white people and Indians alike; as long as people believed the lies, they would never be able to see what had been done to them or what they were doing to each other. He wiped the sweat off his face onto the sleeve of his jacket. He stood back and looked at the gaping cut in the wire. If the white people never looked beyond the lie, to see that theirs was a nation built on stolen land, then they would never be able to understand how they had been used by the witchery; they would never know that they are still being manipulated by those who knew how to stir the ingredients together: white thievery and injustice boiling up the anger and hatred that would finally destroy the world: the starving against the fat, the colored against the white. The destroyers had only to set it into motion, and sit back to count the casualties. But it was more than a body count; the lies devoured white hearts, and for more than two hundred years white people had worked to fill their emptiness; they tried to glut the hollowness with patriotic wars and with great technology and the wealth it brought. And always they had been fooling themselves, and they knew it.
The moon was bright, and the rolling hills and dry lake flats reflected a silvery light illusion that everything was as visible as if seen in broad daylight. But the mare stumbled and threw him hard against the saddle horn, and he realized how deceptive the moonlight was; exposed root tips and dark rocks waited in deep shadows cast by the moon. Their lie would destroy this world. ---pp. 177-8, Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko

The second quote on silence and time:

He stopped on the edge of the clearing. The air was much colder. He had been so intent on finding the cattle that he had forgotten all the events of the past days and past years. Hunting the cattle was good for that. Old Betonie was right. It was a cure for that, and maybe for other things too. The spotted cattle wouldn't be lost any more, scattered through his dreams, driven by his hesitation to admit they had been stolen, that the land---all of it---had been stolen from them. The anticipation of what he might find was stung tight in his belly; suddenly the tension snapped and hurled him into the empty room where the ticking of the clock behind the curtains had ceased. He stopped the mare. The silence was inside, in his belly; there was no longer any hurry. The ride into the mountain had branched into all directions of time. He knew then why the oldtimers could only speak of yesterday and tomorrow in terms of the present moment: the only certainty; and this present sense of being was qualified with bare hints of yesterday or tomorrow, by saying, ``I go up to the mountains yesterday or I go up to the mountains tomorrow.'' The ck'o'yo Kaup'a'ta somewhere is stacking his gambling sticks and waiting for a visitor; Rocky and I are walking across the ridge in the moonlight; Josiah and Robert are waiting for us. This night is a single night; and there has never been any other. ---pp. 178-9, Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko

Finally, a bonus quote from an Aeon article, ``Wild thing How and why did humans domesticate animals – and what might this tell us about the future of our own species?'' by Jacob Mikanowski


Keeping pets meant inviting animals into the family. It also created new relationships of inequality. The anthropologist Tim Ingold at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, who has spent years studying the reindeer herders of Lapland, argues that it is a mistake to regard domestication as a form of progress, from living in opposition to nature to harnessing it for our benefit. In The Perception of the Environment (2000), he notes that foraging peoples generally regard animals as their equals. Hunting is not a form of violence so much as a willing sacrifice on the part of the animal. Pastoralists, on the other hand, tend to regard animals as servants, to be mastered and controlled. Domestication doesn’t entail making wild animals tame, Ingold says. Instead, it means replacing a relationship founded on trust with one ‘based on domination’.

When humans start treating animals as subordinates, it becomes easier to do the same thing to one another. The first city-states in Mesopotamia were built on this principle of transferring methods of control from creatures to human beings, according to the archaeologist Guillermo Algaze at the University of California in San Diego. Scribes used the same categories to describe captives and temple workers as they used for state-owned cattle.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


From a novel on (lesbian) love, loss and grief, remembering, and amnesia:

The possum travels light, its little brain just a bit of spit and blood, poor synapses that can't recall where it slept the day before. It's nomadic, solitary, stopping here or there to sleep, to eat, and in the spring to mate. When cornered, it'll hiss and bare its teeth, and then commit its suicide. You think it's dead, and chances are it is, but when you leave it might wake up, sneer, and move along. ---p. 60, Toward Amnesia, Sarah Van Arsdale

What is kindness? Kindness is a way of walking, of approaching subjects. It has deep roots in a view of the world based on equality. Violence comes from inequality and requires justice. In an equal world, there are swift decisions, but they are not violent!

A quote on human sacrifice:
``The practice of human sacrifice was fundamental to the Aztec's faith. Thousands of men, women, and children were killed each year in hopes of appeasing the willful gods and keeping the fragile universe in balance. On holy days, priests in black robes led victims---warrior, prisoner, slave, or maiden---up the Great Temple and carved out their beating hearts with a flint knife.'' ---p. 15, Dancing with the Tiger, Lili Wright

And a quote about listening from a strange novel:
... I listen. That's my business. Listening. That's the difference between me and the Harvard guy. The Harvard guys don't listen. ---p. 156, The Last Thing He Wanted, Joan Didion

Monday, December 12, 2016

Is There a Tiny Fragment?!?

This quote comes after a particularly disturbing and depressing description of life in the Soviet Union in early 20th century:
``Not all of me shall die.'' Shulubin whispered. ``Not all of me shall die.''
He must be delirious.
Kostogolov groped for the man's hot hand lying on the blanket. He pressed it lightly. ``Aleksi Filippovich,'' he said, ``you're ging to live! Hang on, Aleksi Filippovich!''
``There's a fragment, isn't there? ... Just a tiny fragment,'' he kept whispering.
It was then it struck Oleg that Shulubin was not delirious, that he's recognized him and was reminding him of their last conversation before the operation. He had said, ``Sometimes I feel quite distinctly that what is inside me is not all of me. There's something else, sublime, quite indestructible, some tiny fragment of the universal spirit. Don't you fell that?'' pp. 482-3, Cancer Ward, Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Is this hope or illusion? I believe Solzhenitsyn leaves it up to each of us, readers, to decide on our own.

I have felt the lack of trust and sense of betrayal described in the following very acutely:
... Cancer was a front-parlour subject, but it wasn't in the same class as a broken leg or a heart attack or even a death. It was apart, obscene almost, like a scandal; it was something you brought upon yourself.
Other people think that too, but in different ways. Rennie used to think it herself. Sexual repression. Couldn't act out anger. The body, sinister twin, taking its revenge for whatever crimes the mind was supposed to have committed on it. Nothing has prepared her for her own outrage, the feeling that she'd been betrayed by a close friend. She'd given her body swimming twice a week, forbidden it junk food and cigarette smoke, allowed it a normal amount of sexual release. She'd trusted it. Why then had it turned against her?  pp. 73-4, Bodily Harm, Margaret Artwood

In fact, there is a close, and yet obscure, connection between trust (faith?) and that tiny fragment inside ...

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Meaning of Existence

``It was just this sort of silent immobility, without planned or even floating thoughts, which gave him a sense of purity and fulfillment.

At such moments an image of the whole meaning of existence---his own during the long past and the short future ahead, that of his late wife, of his young granddaughter and of everyone in the world---came to his mind. The image he saw did not seem to be embodied in the work or activity which occupied them, which they believed  was central to their lives, and by which they were known to others. The meaning of existence was to preserve unspoiled, undisturbed, and undistorted the image of eternity with which each person is born.
Like a silver moon in a calm, still pond.'' ---p.428, Cancer ward, Alexander Solzhenitsyn

"Cattle are like any living thing. If you separate them from the land for too long, keep them in barns and corrals, they lose something. Their stomachs get where they can only eat rolled oats and alfalfa. When you turn them loose again, they go running all over. They are scared because the land is unfamiliar, and they are lost. They don't stop being scared either, even when they look quiet and they quit running. Scared animals die off easily." ---pp. 68-69, Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko

"But the patient's organism isn't aware that our knowledge is divided into separate branches. You see, the organism isn't divided. As Voltaire said, `Doctors prescribe medicines about which they know little for an organism about which they know less.' How can we understand the patient as a single subject? ... If you wanted to understand the patient as a single subject, there'd be no room left in you for any other passion. That's the way it is. The doctor should be a single subject as well. The doctor ought to be an all-rounder." p. 425, Cancer wardAlexander Solzhenitsyn

Friday, November 11, 2016

Case Breaking and Surrender

``A case breaking is like a dam breaking. Everything around you gathers itself up and moves effortlessly, unstoppably into top gear; every drop of energy you've poured into the investigation comes back to you, unleashed and gaining momentum by the second, subsuming you in its building roar. ... This, I think, is one of the things I always craved from the job: the way that, at certain moments, you can surrender everything else, lose yourself in the driving techno pulse of it and become nothing, but part of a perfectly calibrated, vital machine.''  p. 321, `In the Woods' by TanaFrench

When I read this paragraph I had this feeling that life can be lived more or less the way described here, if one learns how to surrender. Maybe ... Who knows!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Three Rules (of Changing a Culture)

I finished an amazing book about the culture that Donald Trump is representing, and frankly exploiting, a few weeks ago: ``Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right,'' by Arlie Russell Hochschild [link:] The most fascinating thing was that the author, a liberal professor from Berkeley, has been able to listen deeply to a group of tea party members from Louisiana and narrate their deep story. Not surprisingly, that deep story is closely related to the ``American dream''!

Another related book that I am reading now is ``Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,'' by J. D. Vance [link:] Here is an excerpt:
``It's not like parents and teachers never mentioned hard work. Not do they walk around loudly proclaiming that they expect their children to turn out poorly. These attitudes lurk below the surface, less in what people say than in how they act.'' p. 57, HillBilly Elegy
What is culture? A framework, a deep structure of shared meaning that motivates people within in. The common subconscious of a group.

How can one guide and change a culture? Is it at all possible?

``There is a difference between posture that is based on an abstract ideal and posture that is responsive to circumstance, that arises out of context.

Lordosis of the spine is naturally regulated by the stabilizer muscles of the trunk---that is, until certain forms of thought get involved. When we think about abdominal muscles and about stabilizing our lordosis, we control our posture consciously and create fixation. Even thinking about our abdomen is likely to activate the superficial belly wall. These muscles pull the chest down and, when habitually contracted, lead to weakening of the deeper system that supports us in dynamic movement. Coupled with belly wall tightening is buttock tightening and pelvic floor tightening.'' --p.106, How Life Moves

Dealing with a culture is as dangerous and potentially futile as trying to correct subconscious. I think there are three elements in effective work with either: Simplicity (of words and instructions), practice (repetition and patience), and meaning (purpose and motivation).

The puzzle is that everything starts with a word:

``In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.'' John 1:1

For this young man, "The Word" is "yo-yo":

THROW from Early Light Media on Vimeo.

Freedom, Religion

A couple of days ago I read a discussion between some friends regarding religion, worship, freedom, and slavery. In Farsi and Arabic, the t...