The Pathetic Fallacy – Nations

I wrote in Pathetic Fallacy – Corporations that a pathetic fallacy — personifying what is not a person — masks reality with an idea and triggers false emotion from false perception.

Thinking of a nation as an entity with a will is as misleading as thinking that a corporation decides what to do.  Nations and corporations are not beings with a mind of their own.  They are artificial entities that enable real people, their leaders, to command resources and project power.

To see that a nation is a concept just like a corporation, consider nations to be a form of business.  For example:

  • The business known as England, where I grew up, was owned and operated as the Tudor family business from 1485 until 1603 when it was taken over by the business operated by the Stuart family since 1371 that was known as Scotland
  • The USA business, where I have lived all my adult (hah!) life, resulted from the hostile takeover of what we term the “Indian nations.”

Indian Nations Map

But what actually is a nation?  There are many forms of nation, just as corporations are only one form of business, so there are many definitions :

  1. “A large group of people who share a common language, culture, ethnicity, descent, or history
  2. “A large body of people, associated with a particular territory, that is sufficiently conscious of its unity to seek or to possess a government peculiarly its own
  3. “A large area of land that is controlled by its own government

The USA is not a nation of the first kind since we do not have a common language — there are 45 million Spanish-speaking Americans — or a common culture, ethnicity or descent.  It is also not a nation of the second kind, not unified in a deep way, as this election season makes so clear.

As Colin Woodard’s excellent historical analysis shows, the USA is better understood as eleven nations, each with a different culture.

Eleven American Nations Map

So the USA is a nation of the third kind, one with the same system of government for more than two centuries whose territory kept expanding until it spanned its ocean borders.

What about other nations, those in the Middle East, for example?

A map of their territories suggests that:

  • Large ones on the periphery — Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — are likely to fight over those in the center — Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon
  • Iraq is likely to want to control Kuwait to get ocean access
  • Saudi Arabia is likely to want to control Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAR, Oman and Yemen

Middle East Map

But we are misled by our delusion that nations are natural entities, especially Saudi Arabia, whose eastern and western coastal borders make it seem to be a nation of the third kind like the USA.

In fact, the territory now known as Saudi Arabia only came into existence in 1932.  It is, to continue the business analogy, an Ibn Saud family-owned oil production business.  Their administration happens to require the people in that territory to conform to an ultra-conservative form of Sunni Islam.

The territory now known as Iran, however, part of whose borders are also coastal, is a nation of the first kind.  It has a distinct ethno-linguistic population and a common culture formed by operating from 530 BC to 1979 as the Persian Empire.  Its secular dynastic rule was then overthrown by Ayatollah Khomeini who established a fundamentalist Shia Islam theocracy.

The territory now known as Iraq, with no natural borders, has an even longer history as Mesopotamia.  It is where the world’s first cities formed around 5300 BC.  Unlike Iran, the majority of Iraq’s people are Arabs although there are also Kurds where it borders Turkey and Iran.  Mesopotamia was conquered by Muslim Arabs in the 7th century, later absorbed into the Ottoman Empire, briefly stable under Saddam Hussein after 1979 but its territory is now battled over by an elected government and unrecognized new nations, Kurdistan and Islamic State.

The territory now known as Turkey was the center of the Ottoman Empire from 1299 to 1922 when it was re-established by Kemal Ataturk as a secular democracy whose natural borders are coastal.

And the territory known as Egypt, with desert and coastal borders, was managed as a kingdom for three thousand years, then by the Arab Muslim Empire for six centuries and as part of the Ottoman Empire from 1517 until that empire fell.  Its monarchy was overthrown in 1952 by Gamal Nasser.

So Iran, Egypt and Turkey each has a long history during which an ethno-linguistic majority established a culture in a territory defined largely by coastal borders.  Iraq also has a long history but lacks natural borders and has a divided population.  Saudi Arabia lacks agricultural potential and has only been a nation since oil was discovered.  The government of all five nations is in fact quite new.

The future of territories is determined to a great extent by geography.  The behavior of people is influenced by cultures that diverge over time.  But the behavior of what we imagine to be nations is decided not be those conceptual entities but by individuals such as Ibn Saud, Ayatollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, Kemal Ataturk and Gamal Nasser.

That’s a critical distinction because a territory and its people can, when characterized as a nation, inspire fear, hatred and violence, replacing what is real — people like us — with fantasy, an alien mass against which appalling violence seems necessary and right.

Terrible things happen when we condemn entire populations whose existence in the form of a nation is the product of our imagination.

We teach children who crush their thumb with a hammer not to fly into a rage at the hammer.  We must see for ourselves that it is not corporations and nations that take action but their leaders.

 

The Pathetic Fallacy – Corporations

The term “pathetic fallacy” comes from Ruskin’s 19th century campaign against false emotion in poetry.   Pathetic then meant emotional, fallacy falseness.

A pathetic fallacy is based on personifying what is not a person.  If we say clouds are sullen or leaves dance, we mask their reality with an idea.  We do not see them as they are and we respond in ways that do not result from their reality.  Pathetic fallacies trigger false emotions from false perceptions.

We make this mistake today when we think of corporations as people.  We admire Apple, vilify Monsanto, and so on.

We also think of nations as if they have an existence separate from their people.  And politicians speak of Islam as if it was an entity.  I will explore those pathetic fallacies in future posts.

This post is about corporations viewed as people, a delusion that got a powerful boost in 2010 from the US Supreme Court.

In Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, which relied on an earlier decision that associations of individuals have First Amendment free speech rights, the Court ruled that corporations are associations of individuals and therefore also have those rights.

Justice Stevens pointed out the failure of logic.  Since legal entities are not “We the People” for whom the Constitution was established, they have no Constitutional rights of any kind.

It is the members of a corporation or any other association who have Constitutional rights, said Justice Stevens.  Corporations do not have an additional set.

Because Justice Stevens was in the minority, corporations, which are not individuals with a vote, now significantly influence voting.

We the People can try individually to persuade others to vote like us and if we are wealthy enough, we can buy media advertisements to amplify our voice.   To balance that power, associations of individuals who are less wealthy can pool their resources.

But spending from corporate treasuries is now amplifying spending by wealthy individuals.

And our delusion that personifies corporations leads us to imagine they decide what politicians to promote.  But corporations do not make decisions — their executives do.

Let me personalize that.  The core business of Dun & Bradstreet where I was a Senior Vice President assumes that payment history is the best indicator of credit worthiness.  That was true in 1841 when almost every US business was a sole proprietorship — but note the fallacy.

It is the proprietor who decides when a sole proprietorship pays its suppliers and that is true for every business enterprise, which means the best indicator of the credit worthiness of a business is the honesty of its executives.

There were no personal credit reports in 1841 but there are now, so the trustworthiness of any business can be judged by the presence or absence of negative financial behavior by its executives.

That must be the case because it is not businesses but the people who manage them that decide when and whether to pay bills.

Although the fallacy of imagining that corporations behave as entities separate from their executives is not significant for the future of D&B’s business, it is very important for the future of our democracy.

The newly authorized corporate spending to promote political candidates on top of the existing spending on lobbying to influence legislation now impacts who gets elected in the first place.

That matters because legislation by politicians whose campaigns are largely funded by wealthy individuals and the corporate treasuries they control inevitably favors those wealthy individuals.

That was not what the framers of our Constitution intended.  Their goal was for legislation to “promote the general Welfare.”

 

Annual Report

My end-of-year statistics from WordPress are — 7,691 page views this year with last month the most active at 973 views by 600 unique visitors.

I’m intrigued that while 575 of last month’s 973 page views were from the USA, others came from surprisingly diverse places — 57 from the UK, 37 from France, 34 from India, 33 from the United Arab Emirates, 30 from Canada, 20 from Qatar, 17 from Germany, 11 from Egypt, 10 from the Czech Republic and smaller numbers from elsewhere.  In January, 31 were from Brazil.  This month, 17 are from Japan.  Globalization is a thing!

My research for posts about Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Kurdistan, the Islamic State, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt was to dispel my own ignorance with the hope that they would also help friends here in the USA.  I’m happy they also found an audience in the Middle East.

What motivated me to start that work was Islamophobic propaganda.  I wrote about that here.

I plan to complete that first round of Middle East research in the new year, post about Israel, more about the Islamic State/ISIS, and ideas for Middle East strategies and about terrorism in the USA.

I intend also to return to why we engage in endless war and ever-increasing arms exportsjingoism, and how we can counter relentless propaganda.

My seven posts about depression stimulated a lot of comment.  I will return to that topic with some recent research about averting depression.

My posts about Nepal and Buddhist practice got me thinking about adding a new area to the site for photo-heavy posts about my treks in Nepal, Sikkim and Tibet.

And I will explore how to make some older posts more visible.  This month there were 238 views of my October 30, 2014 Ignorance, Fear and Imaginary Facts and I have no idea what suddenly made that post so popular.

So, thank you everyone who came here this year!  I am encouraged to continue 🙂

 

Let’s Stop Being Terrorized

A year ago we were exhorted to close our borders against Ebola.  Some State Governors went ahead and did so, taking action, they said, when President Obama would not.

Then a friend posted this appalling and spurious image.  What we should really fear, she thought, is Islam.  One in three conservative Republicans already believed President Obama to be a Muslim.

Although fear trumps facts, that particular lie did not have legs.  Islam does not allow such behavior and Ayatollah Khomeini, who died a quarter of a century ago, is not the “current leader of Iran.”

Fear is a helpful survival instinct — we’re safer taking automatic fight-or-flight action with intellect engaging only later.  But there’s a downside.  Because it closes our mind, instilling fear is a powerful way to control us.

Knowing that, politicians are now instilling fear of a much more potent terror, ISIS.  They say it is the true face of a religion that commands its followers to kill all others.  And some Americans think they know exactly what to do about that nightmare.

Mainstream media eagerly participates in the fear-mongering.  Ten days after the recent San Bernardino massacre, the New York Times claimed one of the attackers had years ago publicly committed to terrorism.

The allegation is false, said FBI Director Comey, and the Times provided no evidence, but presidential candidates claimed it as a catastrophic Obama administration failure.

Voters want someone to blame for their struggles, politicians want us to have an enemy because they will get more power if we are fearful, and mainstream media amplifies our fears so we will consume more.  Our emotions are being manipulated.  We are being misdirected.

As I wrote a year ago, while we cannot eliminate infectious disease, a health care system that encourages all with symptoms to get treatment right away would minimize the spread of disease.

And while San Bernardino was horrific and likely was inspired by ISIS publicity, the odds of being killed by terrorists in America are extremely small. Depending on how you define them, there have been 40 mass shootings since 9/11/2001 but only a few were terrorist attacks.

Mass Shootings Map

We cannot anticipate all future mass shootings or other kinds of massacres.  We could not have anticipated Timothy McVeigh killing 168 people with a homemade bomb in Oklahama City twenty years ago, or the drivers who mass murder pedestrians.

We could eliminate many mass shootings, however, including San Bernardino and the massacre in my home town, by removing assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns with high-capacity magazines from our society.

And we could go further.  We could start eliminating the future equivalent of this year’s 355 shootings  in which four or more were injured or killed, and this year’s 33,000 individual deaths and 80,000 hospitalizations from gunshots.

Police work will not end hatred of blacks, Muslims, our government, fellow workers, shooters’ families or others, desire for fame, other people’s money or ending one’s own life, or just plain foolishness.

But we could start eliminating the easy way to kill by removing not only assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns with high-capacity magazines from our society, but all hand guns.  We could even restrict rifles and shotguns.

I do not expect our society will make that choice.  I expect our freedom to own a wide range of weapons will continue to outweigh its costs.  We will choose to continue having mass shootings.

Perhaps we will get a universal health care system one day because our present approach costs far too much.  But our freedom to own guns does not seem something about which we can make conscious choices.

Beset by all these nightmares and more, is there anything we can do as individuals?  As this wise Christian leader wrote when we faced immediate nuclear extinction, we can pull ourselves together and meet our fate doing sensible and human things.

Let’s stop being terrorized by politicians and media people.  Let’s summon the courage to live in the happily generous American way.

Things we do out of fearfulness with which we’ve been infected frustrate and sadden people like this Muslim family that we would not allow to come on holiday and enrage those in other countries like our own “Overpasses for America” people.  That rage is why some want to kill us.

So let’s each of us do the deeply human thing.  Let’s learn how to help each other overcome fear.

Poetry, Physics, Practice & the Ineffable

This story about Everyman exploring where he does not know the language has a deceptively deep point.

We enter the story as Everyman asks his guide “What’s that?” pointing to something intriguing.  It’s the same every time and so frustrating!  He understands none of the few words reply.

They walk on.  Suddenly, through a gap in the trees, Everyman notices an odd looking building.

“What’s that?” he asks, pointing to the building, and again understands none of the few words reply.

Now the path leads up.  From the crest he sees a beautiful stone structure that seems to overlook the next valley.

“What’s that?” he asks, pointing to the beautiful structure, and yet again understands none of the familiar reply.

So it goes every day.

Then one day they happen upon a man who speaks not only Everyman’s but also the local language.

“I don’t understand,” Everyman says.  “Every time I want to know what something is I ask my guide, but I never understand his answers and the really odd thing is, it feels like he always says the same thing!”

“Show me what you mean.”

“OK.”  Everyman beckons the guide over, nods to him and points to a colorful bird on a nearby branch.  “What’s that?” he asks, and the guide replies.

“There!” Everyman exclaims.  “What did he say?”

“He said, ‘It’s your finger, you fool.'”

The point of the story is we think words are the names of things when in fact, they just point toward “things.”  If we don’t see what is being pointed toward, we imagine words to mean what we already think they mean.

My experience working to understand, experience and embrace Buddhist metaphysics has been much like that of Everyman and his guide.

The ethics are the same but the Buddhist understanding of existence is fundamentally different from what I learned growing up.  The difficulty is, all the words available to express that understanding already have meanings in my mind.

I soon realized I must work to see what is different that familiar words are pointing towards.  That takes persistent effort and what is very unfamiliar to me, persistent relaxing.

There’s meditation that calms the mind, like waiting for the wind to slacken, because it’s hard to see clearly in our usual mind-storm.

There’s close observation and rigorous analysis that make it possible to recognize what is real.

And there’s chanting poetry, a disorienting ritual practice that facilitates the experience of what is real.

I’m so blessed to have been introduced to three approaches to the ineffable —  poetry, physics and practice!

TCN, Episode 11 – Corruption and Government

Saddened when I went trekking by all the hardships I saw, I thought: “I know how to devise strategies, what’s a good one for Nepal?”  It was only after many more trips that I saw the root of the problem.

It is easy to see a good strategy for Nepal.  It has over 80,000 MW of hydro-power potential, much of which it could export, and its near neighbor, Bhutan, has made good deals with India to do exactly that.

But Nepal has failed to make such deals and has developed less than 1% of its potential.

Why the difference?  Corruption.  Corruption is when someone uses a position of authority for their personal gain.

But the whole point of having a position of authority throughout Nepal’s history was personal gain.

And that motivation has not changed — see Electricity and Corruption.

Nepal never had what we understand by “government”.  Its administration never was intended to provide services to the people.  It existed to operate a tax farming business owned by Hindu kings and run by a high caste Hindu family.

That ruling elite was a tiny minority within the high caste groups that make up less than a third of Nepal’s diverse population where over a hundred mutually unintelligible languages are spoken.

As these charts from a good article on the topic illustrate, Chhetri and Hill-Brahmin people make up 29% of the 28 million population.  Doma’s Tamang people are one of the larger non-Hindu tribal groups.

Nepalese population by jat

Since Nepal was owned and operated by high caste Hindus for 240 years and the Hindu monarchy fell only seven years ago it is no surprise that the government is still dominated by high caste Hindus.

Nor is it surprising, given the enormous over-representation of high caste men in the government, judiciary, journalism and other positions of influence, that they would have engineered the new Constitution to maintain their privileged position.

Voting in Nepal is along ethnic lines unless that’s trumped by who pays most for your vote.  Brahmin and Chettri subsistence farmers who live in the hills will vote for wealthy Brahmin and Chettri politicians simply because of their caste.

That is why the electoral districts defined in the new Constitution were jerrymandered to include a sufficient number of hill people.

Nepalese Leadership by Caste

Can this culture of “corruption” that makes it impossible for Nepalis to have “government” be changed?

When the new Constitution was announced, Dr. Baburam Bhatterai, Prime Minister from August 2011 to March 2013, split from the Maoist Party that had led the monarchy’s overthrow.  He is forming a new party.  To replace exploitation with government, he says, it is necessary to start anew.

Baburam’s leadership will have some effect but much more will be necessary, and while legislation can sometimes be enacted quickly, cultures only ever change slowly.

Nepal’s politics-for-profit culture will not be changed by those it benefits.  I’m hoping the protests by the Madhesi that make life even harder for all but the privileged few will turn out to have been the equivalent of our civil rights protests half a century ago.

TCN, Episode 10 – Customs and Immigration

Nov 10 – I reenter the USA via Philadelphia.  I’m nervous because Dan was once stuck here for several days.  My first stop is Immigration.

“Where are you coming from?”

“Nepal.”

“What were you doing there?”

“Buddhist classes.”

“Are you a Buddhist?”

“Yes.”

“Do you meditate?”

“I do.”

“Does it make any difference?”

“I’m growing a bit less selfish and sometimes more helpful. My wife says I’m becoming a better person.”

“Well if your wife says it, that’s decisive!  How long do you meditate?”

“Part of what I do is meditate, the other part is ritual chanting.  I do a couple of hours altogether first thing in the morning when I can follow my routine.”

“Oh, that’s too much, I can’t do that…  My wife keeps telling me to meditate.”

“I couldn’t have done it when I was working.  My teachers say it makes a difference if you do only 15 or 20 minutes every day.”

“Hmm.  OK…  Welcome back to America.”

“Thank you.  Try it for 15 minutes.  See if it works for you.”

The Immigration man one line over interviewing the woman from South Sudan who sat next to me on the plane and asked me to help her complete the Customs and Immigration form tells her to go to the “Secondary Interview” room.   She also asked me to help her navigate the airport so I look for my bag while she waits.

Happy to find my bag intact, I take it to where the woman is waiting.  She doesn’t know why she is there.

A serious young white man and a cheerful young black woman tell her to come with them for questioning.  At a nearby table they examine documents she retrieves from her bag.  She is nervous but they finish quickly and tell her:  “You don’t have your Green Card yet.  When you do, it will come here.  Okay, you can go now.”

So off we go to find her large bags, then on to Customs.  Everyone else on our flight is long gone.  At the end of the “Nothing to Declare” path a friendly woman smiles at my companion, waves her forward and says: “Don’t be nervous.  Everything is okay.”  She smiles more broadly when my companion shyly approaches, stamps her form without looking at it and waves her on.  Then she smiles at me, waves me forward and stamps my form.

We hand over our bags at the Transit desk then look for the gate for her flight to Minneapolis.  The display doesn’t show it because she has a four hour layover.  I find a friendly black woman at an Information booth and introduce them.  My companion is now in good hands so I go for my flight to Boston.  It leaves almost on time!

This was my best return journey ever.  You’d think my Buddhist practice is working 🙂

TCN, Episode 9 – Retreat and Empowerment

Nov 6 – I ask Nagendra what he thinks about retreats.  The longest ones I’ve done have been a week long.  My mind calmed, it became easier to observe what thoughts arose and see their origin, and that helped the meaning of teachings get through the usual distracting clutter.

I hope to do a one month retreat sometime because that’s the traditional next step, but I shall not take the following step, a three year retreat.

The two week-long classes I just took were a form of retreat.  We were instructed to consider them so.  At one point our teacher said: “People think what it means to be a lama is we give up sex, but it’s so much more than that.  We make more than two hundred commitments about what we will and will not do, and after the third empowerment we must have a consort for the next practices.”

Empowerments authorize you to perform certain practices.  They are given by teachers when you have attained the results of your current practice.  Each of the four empowerments authorizes one to perform a certain class of practices. One is then granted approval for specific practices within that class.

I am at the first level and feel unlikely to get to the second.

The original set of Buddhist practices is known as Nyingma, the Old School.  My teachers are in this tradition.  Three New Schools came later, one of which split into two, and the latest of which is headed by the Dalai Lama.

An important way the Nyingma tradition is different is its practitioners can live an “ordinary” life with an approach that is different from ordinary.

Both my teachers are married with children.  The younger one, who is mid-30s, was told by his chief teacher: “It is time for you to have a wife.”  He was quite surprised but did as he was told and is happy that he did.  His wife alerts him to negative behaviors that he had not noticed.   There was no question of disobeying, anyway.  He is unusual in teaching from his own experience, which makes his teachings more accessible.

I’d been thinking the Nyingma ordinary life approach seems the most effective.  Our experiences in ordinary life trigger our habitual negative concepts and emotions.  That causes us to suffer, which can motivate us to change those habits.  If we hadn’t triggered our suffering, we would not have noticed the existence of our negative concept or emotion.

But doesn’t that mean a three year retreat is counter-productive?  If I sit by myself in a cave for three years I won’t interact with anyone and trigger any new suffering.  “What do you think, Nagendra?”

A long pause, then: “When there is no temptation there is no examination.”

“Is that original?  It must be a quote!”  

“Oh, it’s original…”  He was just articulating his opinion.  Pretty amazing.

In any case, it’s what I always thought.  But then Nagendra went on to say his more considered opinion.  What would happen in long solitude is thoughts would come from one’s past experiences. You might recall a particularly fine meal in a restaurant.  You would think about going for such a meal again but it would be impossible.

Or you might think only about your Buddhist practice.  In that case you might imagine the results you hope your retreat will bring, or fear that it will not.

The lama who taught the classes I just took mentioned the most powerful teaching he ever received .  He asked his teacher what he gained from twelve years of solitary retreat.  He replied: “Oh I wasted all that time in hope and fear about the results I might get.”

So I see how I might benefit from a three year retreat — but I still won’t be doing one 😊

After that our conversation degenerated into more examples of what is wrong in Nepal now and the deep rooted origins.  Every so often, to vary my response, I would say “Bullshit!”

At last Nagendra said: “I like this concept, bullshit.  It gives us the power to ignore what we label that way.”

I was very happy.  I had originated the Bullshit Empowerment.

TCN, Episode 8 – Electricity and Corruption

India’s Prime Minister, Modi, came here not too long ago and was hugely popular.  That has changed now the high caste owned media allied with the high caste politicians is blaming India for the blockade.

Modi was popular because he kept getting out of his car to talk with ordinary Nepalis.  Politicians don’t do that.  He was popular, too, because he said India would make big investments in Nepal to stimulate its economy.  He said that was in India’s best interest as well as Nepal’s.  Increased trade between them would be good for everyone.

In particular, he promised massive investment in hydro power generation.  India would buy some of the electricity.  Much of it would be for Nepalis.

An engineer friend of Nagendra’s who works for the electricity company told him why that will never happen.  A new higher capacity distribution network would be necessary.

It would also, by the way, be good to upgrade the “last mile” part of the grid that looks like this, but that could wait.

Electricity Pole

The higher capacity transmission lines would need new towers.  Each of them would need a small parcel of land and buying that land is why the network can’t be built.  Payoffs for every parcel to leaders of the three major political parties and each local party would make the venture cost-prohibitive.

Can’t the legal system be used to overcome such corruption?  I hoped the new Constitution would restructure the judiciary to be independent.  I should have known better.  If the judiciary was not controlled by the politicians, they would risk prosecution for corruption.

Democracy is impossible in a society like this.  Everyone knows the politicians’ promises are empty.  The culture overall, not just in the political sphere, is to tell you what you want to hear so you will be happy.  You will not be happy when it doesn’t happen, but you never really counted on the promise, anyway.

The security guard for the bank beside Nagendra’s shop who is Tamang like Doma’s family explained how he voted in the last election.   The Congress Party promised 3,000 rupees for his vote.  He was going to vote for them, but then the Maoist Party promised 5,000.  Neither of them would do what they promised if elected so he went with the higher price.

Kathmandu was a paradise when Nagendra moved here in 1980.  He got his drinking water from the Bagmati River.  The result of ongoing failure of government?  It is now a sewer.

Bagmati River Kathmandu

Kathmandu’s population is now over a million yet fully 95% of its waste water is untreated and is dumped directly into rivers.  Garbage collection is an equally sorry story.  Much of it is disposed of haphazardly along the river banks.  That also ends up in the water.

This afternoon the three kids and I will cross the bridge where that picture was taken and move back to Doma’s mom’s rooms.  She doesn’t like to but maybe she will have to cook with wood on the roof.  Doma’s aunt enjoys doing that and wants us to stay but we’ve been burdening her long enough.

TCN, Episode 7 – Confusion Dawns as Wisdom

Oct 28 – A famous saying in the tradition I’m practicing is: “Confusion dawns as wisdom.”  That is truly skillful phrasing!

The practices I’m learning aim to disrupt misunderstandings that we crystallize in words whose meaning we no longer question.  Words that point in more than one direction can shake us up, help us to see multiple truths simultaneously.

“Dawns” directs us to recognize that just as night’s darkness is replaced at dawn by the light of day, the confusion in which we live will be replaced by lucid awareness when the result of our training dawns.

Dawn

The same word also directs us to recognize that while at first light we can see wisdom, confusion reigns in the full light of day because we bring our perspective and assumptions to everything.

My experience is very much of both meanings.  Sometimes there’s a sudden clearing in the fog.  Other times I suddenly recognize the fogginess of what I thought was clear.

I’m committed to this training because I’ve seen its inspiring results in others.  But it is indeed confusing!  The practices are either so simple that they don’t look like they could have any effect, or so complicated as to seem incomprehensible. And they’re hard to do.

Try creating a highly detailed and colorful movie in your mind while chanting Tibetan sentences over and over again, remembering when to ring your hand bell, what melody to use when, and what gestures to make with your hands at what points while narrating a story.

And try understanding the changes you’re working to make in your mind and its resulting behaviors while you’re doing all that.

This is why the teachers are always telling us: “Slowly, slowly…”  It’s a long and arduous process breaking up the mess our minds have gotten into over the whole of our life to this moment.

I’m thrilled to find it working a little bit.  So thrilled that I must show you this picture I took a few years ago in upper Mustang near the Tibetan border even though it has nothing to do with what I just said!

Horses winnowing barley

One of my teachers says we are all baby Buddhas. That’s very reassuring.

Recognizing a few days ago that we are simply a locus of cognizance within an energy field has now enabled me to understand, in a foggy way so far, how the ever-changing energy field that manifests as us while we’re alive can survive our body’s death.

The ever changing waves and particles that manifest as “me” will be disrupted when my body dies but they will not cease to exist, just keep changing.

It was the same when my body was born.  The sentient being that I think of as “me” did not come from nothing.  The waves and particles of energy that manifested as “me” already existed.  They just manifested in a new way when my body emerged.

But in the everyday world here in Nepal I see no signs of confusion dawning as wisdom.  Now the big festival is over, violent protests have resumed on the border. Vehicles torched, people beaten up…

Newspaper editorials call for politicians and protesters to talk to each other.  It’s not talking but listening that’s missing.  Nepal will not become a functioning democracy just because its Constitution calls for that.  It could take three or more generations for dawn to manifest in Nepal’s  governance sphere.

Now, back to the monastery for the afternoon class.