Monday, February 18, 2008

Is it better to be Kind than Right?

better to be kind

The above message was created by Anne Harwell and I am using it here to illustrate the typical malaise that is characteristic of our culture and our civilization.

So what's wrong with the above banner? It triumphantly states that "it is better to be kind than right". By claiming that, the statement establishes a tacit assumption that to be kind means to be wrong. Then, it takes a 'wiser' stance and claims that, be all that as it may, it is still better to be wrong, but kind.

The question that immediately comes to mind is: "Based on whose authority do these people claim that to be kind is to be wrong?" And if that's indeed the case, based on what authority are we now to accept that it is better to be wrong (i.e. kind) than to be right?

This false dichotomy, the erroneous pitting of being kind against being right, is a clearcut case of intellectual weakness. The author blindly accepts the idea that one cannot possibly be kind and be right at the same time. But one needs to stop and ask oneself: "Why would being kind mean that one is wrong?"

The problem lies precisely in that question. Somewhere along the line, people have made this unexamined assumption that being kind equates to being wrong. It would be pretty much impossible to determine why and how did that terrible miscalculation arise. Still, the erroneous thinking is here, as witnessed in the above poster.

To remedy this terrible confusion, I will say that to be kind always means that one is right. There is no exception to this rule. Any time you are being kind, you cannot help but be right.

In the light of this realization, one can more easily see how tragically misguided is the sentiment that formulated the above poster.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Delusion and Arrogance

The defining characteristic that separates humans from animals is that humans tend to be very self-congratulatory. We humans think of ourselves as being the 'bees knees' in the grand scheme of things. We are at the top of the food chain, we have no natural predators, we control our environment, and basically we are the masters who are calling the shots.

This is precisely what I'd call the height of self-delusion. Being the self-proclaimed and self-appointed masters of the universe, we are indeed the most arrogant living beings, period.

So what is it exactly that we humans are so incredibly proud of? What is our crowning achievement that sets us so high above any other living beings?

Is it perchance our ability to think in abstract terms? Let's watch the video clip below depicting a human being engaged in an exercise of abstract thinking and reasoning. The subject is given a brief glimpse of five randomly distributed single digit numbers (each number unique, in this case the numbers are 1, 3, 4, 6 and 9). The numbers then get masked by opaque squares, and the subject is challenged to touch the masked numbers, from the lowest to the highest. The exercise then gets repeated, each time with different numbers distributed differently around the touch screen:

Ouch! That was quite bad. Let's now watch the video depicting a chimpanzee attempting to pass the same test:

Yowza! Monkey business indeed!

There's plenty of more similarly revealing videos coming from the Japanese research lab, underlying the chimps' superiority over highly educated humans.

Suddenly, I don't feel so self-congratulatory anymore. Nor do I feel so self-important anymore.

In our next installment, we'll probe a bit deeper into what appears to be the obvious difference between humans and chimps. The results are quite revealing.

You can now go and tap yourself on the shoulder for being so superior to other living beings.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Shunyata and Love

Shunyata (often translated as emptiness) is at the heart of experiencing reality as it is. Anyone who's been in the position to taste the unsurpassed flavor of freedom had actually been in intimate touch with shunyata at that moment. And that moment is, of course, timeless.

From the phenomenological perspective, that is, from the perspective of attempting to describe the indescribable experience of shunyata, one can only say that there is an unmistakable realization that all the everyday things and concepts are unreal. Everything that we cherish and everything that we feel brings meaning to our lives is perceived as false and irrelevant once we experience enlightenment by getting in touch with shunyata.

What then tends to be rather confusing to the innocent bystanders, who may become aware that someone in their community has experienced liberation, is why is it that liberation invariably brings love? Why is it that, once someone realizes how utterly futile all human hopes and dreams are, all that's left for that person to feel is love? Why not feel hate instead of love, or feel anger, or cynicism, or any other arbitrary emotion?

The reason is very simple: love is the most immediate manifestation of intimacy. When a person experiences liberation, enlightenment, shunyata, what becomes immediately apparent is how intimate every apparition, every manifested as well as every unmanifested phenomenon is. All separation is gone, disappeared in the same way the night disappears with the light of dawn. And all that is left is absence of separation, absence of anxiety, absence of vexation. In other words, love.

The above description may be naive and simplistic, but it is nevertheless true.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

It's Not About You

My mother died ten days ago. When I heard the news, my first reaction was a friendly welcome. A feeling of welcoming a very dear friend.

Now, that reaction may strike you as being completely odd, even inappropriate. You may be now wondering: "Alex, where is the sadness and the sorrow that every living human being must feel upon learning that their mother passed away?" Here is why I think my knee-jerk feeling of sadness was almost instantaneously replaced by the feeling of embracing a new, long awaited friend:

It's not because I didn't love my mother, or because I wasn't close to her, or because we had unresolved issues. No, I've been close to my mother my entire life, and we cared for and deeply loved each other. It's also not the case of witnessing someone suffering long and unbearable illness, and wishing for a swift mercy death. No, my mother was healthy, in good spirits. She died suddenly, from a heart attack (even though she was only 74 years old).

But an event as significant as my mother's death revealed something to me that was a lesson worth learning. Instead of taking this sad event as the tragedy that unexpectedly happened to me, I was blessed with the insight that could be summed in the following sentence: "It's not about you, it's about her!"

There is an enormous feeling of liberation whenever we manage to leave the world of personal convenience and neglect our puny egomaniacal concerns, and place our selves in other people's position. My mother's dying instantly put me into that position. All I was concerned with was her own situation, not mine.

This feeling helped me tremendously in solidifying my own convictions that self is irrelevant, and that the meaning of life can only be found in seeing through the falsity that is masquerading as self, or ego. This is why I consider my mother's death as her gift to me. She gave me the gift of life, she gave me the gift of teaching me how to survive, and now she gave me the final gift -- the gift of knowing how to die.

So, no matter what happens, it really helps if you carry with you a strong insight that it's never about you. You, as a separate being, are irrelevant. If you can clearly see that, then there will be no more obstacles to stop you in releasing your lion's roar of liberation!