Champions for change

June.15. 2017

I’ve been practicing a lot lately, and as usual, to distract my mind, I watch the news. And there’s been a lot of news lately.

Two news items caught my eye this morning.

First, Senator Sander’s pushback.

Apparently the crazed gunman was one of his supporters.

And he did the right thing, which was to come out immediately and condemn the despicable action in the strongest terms.

As opposed to some other people, who, when crazy people do bad things in their name, dance in the streets in celebration.

And then they wonder why people don’t like them.

Then there was this “Champions for change” self promo on one of those fake news channel.

Very heart warming indeed, to see these beautiful ladies do their community service and get some PR at the same time.

This is the right thing, of course, when you go out and do good deeds for your less fortunate neighbors, make sure there’re plenty of cameras following you.

The point of the promo is about hungry people in America.

And in this regard, America shows itself to be one unique country.

It’s the only place on earth where hungry people are overweight.

So an advice to those producers on CNN. Next time if you want to do a story on hunger, hire some skinny people as extras to make the program more believable.


Fluff and essence

June.1. 2017

In a sense, almost all religions are metaphors.

How else can you describe and explain what is unexplainable except through metaphors.

The universe created in six days.

The tree of knowledge.

Eighteen levels of hell. (Why eighteen? And who came up with this number?)

There was a time when all this made sense.

When man looked at the skies and saw only little dots of light and made up elaborate cosmoses based on the earth at the center of the universe.

But now we know better.

Those little dots of lights are really huge suns and so distant their light took billions of years to reach us. And there’re more of them in the universe than all the sand on earth.

Against this new reality, eighteen levels of hell?

Where are they situated? Certainly not deep beneath us as it’s just magma and rocks down there.

And a physical afterlife where you are serenaded by angels?

Or in another religion, where you need cash in the afterlife so you don’t end up a beggar?

How are we to respond to this new reality?

Do we just discard these old beliefs and traditions as mere superstitions and fairy tales and worship science as our new religion?

No, we take these ancient beliefs to a different level.

We interpret them.

We see them as wisdom that transcends time and science.

We see them as metaphors to a deeper truth.

To borrow a metaphor from one of these ancient wise men, we put old wine into new wineskins.

The key is to strip away the layers of metaphors that surround religion and go to its essence, to its inner truth.

And at the heart of (almost) all religions lie three basic concerns. (Why this disclaimer “almost?” You’ll have to watch the evening news to get the answer.)

The first is the question of Creator—who made all this stuff?

The second is morality—to maintain the fabric of society, religion provides us with clear rules of conduct and an elaborate system of justice to make sure we don’t break them.

This system also serves another purpose, to provide us with answers to the afterlife.

The third is that existential question—why are we here?

Three basic concerns, the rest is just fluff.

The differences that lie between religions are mostly in nomenclature and in the fluff.

Unfortunately, most of mankind is more preoccupied with fluff than essence.

They would rather focus on what makes their particular religion the “one true religion” because their fluff is better than yours (because they got their fluff from the “real God” and your fluff is from the devil).

If we are to adopt a new approach based on metaphorical interpretations, we can actually cut through the fluff that divides us and see the commonality of the essence in (almost) all religions.

And understand that we (almost) all believe in the same things.

But that’s an unlikely scenario.

Because shallow (and evil) men like the fluff because it gives them an excuse to continue their mischief.

If your fluff is the “one true righteous fluff,” it gives you an excuse to persecute those whose fluff is “false.”


An obscure gospel

May.27. 2017

I’ve referred to a rather obscure gospel a few times.

Why my preference for this particular gospel? Instead of the other four (the synoptic gospels as they are known)?

It goes back to my research scholar days.

Whenever a work exists in different versions and had undergone editions and revisions, it is always preferable go to the earliest version.

But how do we determine chronology when it is not clearly established as is the case with these gospels?

We look for other clues to help us find it.

The first is the leaner is better theory.

Editors and revisers tend to add rather than subtract. So a leaner version is usually an indication that it is an earlier one and truer to the original source.

The second is consistency of content.

Let’s say there are two versions of one work and both have content that are the same and content that are different.

First, we conclude that the content that is present in both works is probably reliable and authentic since it appears in both versions.

And that the content that is present only in one version is added material.

Then we examine the added content for consistency.

We determine if the added material in each version is consistent with the content that is present in both versions and which we have established to be reliable.

If it is consistent, the version with the consistent content is probably more reliable and vice versa.

The Gospel of Thomas is written in sutra form, basically a list of about 110 wisdom sayings. There are almost no narratives of any kind.

About 60% of the wisdom sayings in the Thomas gospel are also found in the four synoptic gospels.

The rest are mostly narratives and attempts to legitimize the great teacher as a divine being.

Using the lean theory, we can establish that the Thomas gospel is earlier, which means it is probably more reliable.

This is supported by the consistency clue.

One can surmise that the following happened.

After the great teacher had died, his followers began to collect his teachings and assemble them into compilations.

In time, probably a few compilations emerged and circulated, among them, the Gospel of Thomas.

As his followers expanded, an organization grew around his legend and persona and as is common with many great people after they died, a process began to deify him.

Within the organization, efforts were made to standardize his teachings as well as to solidify his new status as a divine being.

And so the four gospels were born, each with their own attempts to establish his divinity with many reverse prophecies and supernatural accounts.

It is possible that as his deification process began, accounts of his “supernatural” exploits began to be circulated and the four scribes were just adding these accounts to the text. Or they might have simply made them up.

Whatever the case might be, we’ll never know.

The true history of what really happened is forever lost to us (unless we happen to build a time machine one day).

But using the plausibility test and considering all the factors, and looking in from the outside, this is really the only plausible explanation for the two differing types of gospels.

And if it were not for some brave monks in the desert of Egypt, the true original gospel might have been lost to us forever, so effective was the establishment machinery in quashing all dissenting literature.


The problem

May.26. 2017

The problem with using metaphors to teach deep concepts is that shallow people will invariably start to take them literally.

Suppose you want to teach the concept of giving.

So you make up this fictitious character who will embody the concept of giving.

(There was actually a St Nick back in medieval times but you can rest assured he bore no resemblance to the guy we know as St Nick.)

Now imagine that some people actually start to believe in this character.

They get so inspired that they start to build a cult around him with an elaborate system of rituals and dogmas.

As their numbers grow, the cult gain general acceptance and is now known as a “religion.”

And maybe along the way, one of their so-called guardians of their laws (known also as theologians) decide that his famous white beard is 5 inches long.

And so everyone starts to grow 5 inch long beards and they start to persecute men who do not have beards.

Nothing wrong of course in all this child play (if it’s all innocent).

Except that the original message of giving is now lost.

Now it’s all about following elaborate rules and rituals and arguing about how many reindeers were hauling his sled instead of being more charitable.

That’s the problem with metaphors.

Some people actually take them literally.


A question of nomenclature

May.25. 2017

I’ve used a few different words to refer to the Creator.

Creator–that’s one.

The Force is another (apologies to GL).

Some people use the word–the Source.

An old Master called Her the Way and Mother.

You can of course use the word God–but that word has been coopted so much by evildoers and opportunists that it doesn’t mean much these days any more.

Yes, you can also use the A-word but there’s a group of people who believe they have the exclusive right to use that word. (I think they own the trade mark.)

Then it came to me, the best word to describe the force, the energy, the spirit of the universe, the one who created and filled the world with life and energy and love and beauty.

Father.

(Which brings us back to the genius of the wise man who first used this word to describe Him.)

“Father” describes Him perfectly.

It explains and describes the one who gave us life and the love in that creation.

(Not human love of course, as many would try to project onto Him. As the Old Master also said, The Way is not Humane.)


Perceptions

May.21. 2017

I am often perplexed by the political correctness in our national discourse these days.

Much of it seems naive and lacking in a basic understanding of the human mind.

Take the concept of profiling.

Profiling is a dirty word these days and often associated with bigotry.

But profiling is actually very much a part of our human DNA.

It’s a defense mechanism that’s been hardwired into us through thousands of years of evolution.

Perhaps one of our ancestors met a snake one day, and the snake happened to bite him.

So what happened the next time he met another snake? He would avoid it. He had learned his lesson and formed a certain profile in his mind of snakes.

Now we all know that not all snakes bite and that not all snakes are poisonous.

But tell that to our ancestor. Once bitten twice shy. Why take the risk again?

This is profiling. It’s a useful defense mechanism and one which had perhaps ensured our survival over millenia of evolution.

It doesn’t even need first hand experience. Profiling can occur through word of mouth too. You can hear of someone being bitten by a snake and you would also learn to avoid them.

There’s actually another side of profiling and it’s called branding. Branding is the pretty side of profiling (as opposed to the ugly side).

Take a particular lady’s accessory that has the initials “LV” as its logo.

For some odd reason, many women (and maybe some men), even those who seem to possess good intelligence, will fork over large sums of money to own one of these bags.

Why are these products so desirable?

Because they associate it with a certain quality or life style (or who knows what else they associate it with).

It’s a fact we can’t deny.

Profiling or branding is hardwired into our genes and there’s no use whining about it.

But we can do something about it.

For instance, I belong to an ethnic group that is often perceived as being weak and submissive. I have noticed that this perception can sometimes lead to some misguided individuals trying to take advantage of the situation.

So what do I do? I found that I had to change that perception when I am met with those situations.

Now, snakes can’t do anything about their bad reputations.

They can’t play victim and cry snakophobia and demand that people stop profiling them.

But we human beings, we can do something.

The first thing is to recognize that the human mind works through associations, through grouping like items together.

When someone does something, good or bad, it immediately affects everyone else who is linked to him/her in whatever shape or form.

If you happen to belong to his/her group and you want to erase or reverse that bad perception which his/her actions have created, you’ll have to do something about it. (In other words, you’ll have to reverse the “karma” of his/her actions.)

Sure it is not fair, why do you have to be responsible for some nutcase’s actions?

But ask yourself, why do people continue to waste their money on certain overpriced products simply because of a logo?

That’s not fair too and very foolish, but will people change simply because you tell them to change?


The plausibility factor

May.10. 2017

So how do we decide what is literal and what is metaphor when it comes to the teachings of this great teacher?

To answer this question, we first establish that metaphors are a part of his language.

In this regard, we don’t have to go far.

In the Gospel of Thomas, he said, I have thrown fire on the world.

A clear use of metaphor–fire to represent the revolutionary ideas he was teaching and not real physical fire.

Similes are closely related to metaphors and his teachings abound with them.

The most famous one–the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.

The difference between simile and metaphor lies in the word “like.” Take out the word “like” and it becomes a metaphor.

I can go one but those will suffice.

Once we establish that metaphors are indeed a part of his language, the next step is to determine which of his teachings is to be taken literally and which metaphorically.

For this, we rely on the plausibility factor.

At one level, this may seem to be a matter of personal opinion. Plausibility, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

But at another level, it’s pretty clear cut.

Take Santa again.

Is it plausible that there’s a workshop up in the North Pole where a bunch of elves are making toys to keep young kids happy during a festive season?

Is it plausible that there’s an old guy riding around on a sled drawn by reindeers dropping down chimneys with a bag of gifts during that season?

If that doesn’t sound plausible, how about this?

There’re 18 levels of hell and each one is filled with a special torture chamber?

Not too plausible? How about this?

There’s a place somewhere where people are being burned 24/7 for eternity in a fire that never goes out?

And on the other side where other people are living in a paradise dressed in white robes and being serenaded by angels?

There’s one common denominator in all these imaginative scenarios–they all point to the physical realm.

And therein lies the source of the confusion.

Physical metaphors are often used to explain spiritual concepts.

Unfortunately, these physical metaphors often take on a life of their own and what was meant to be spiritual has now become physical.

Ultimately, we come back to the plausibility factor.

We have the freedom to choose what to believe.

If a flat earth is plausible to you, you have every right to continue believing in it.


The adversary

May.9. 2017

By adversary, I don’t mean to imply that there’s a real physical horned creature somewhere creating mischief and making life difficult for us.

Like many other things, this mythical creature is a metaphor toofor evil.

Because like heaven, evil exists only in our minds.

(This does not make it any less real. In fact, you don’t have to look far these days to see its handiwork.)

As the teacher taught in the Gospel of Thomas:

When the disciples asked him if heaven is in the sky or in the sea, he said, neither in the sky nor in the sea, but within us.

The disciples were simple peasant folk. They thought that the teacher was referring to a physical place when he talked about the kingdom of heaven.

But he was really referring to our spirit, to what’s inside us.

It reminds me of what my mother used to teach me when I was a child about the devil sitting on my left side and my guardian angel on my right.

As a child, the two metaphors were useful in teaching me about good and evil.

But like the Santa story, I soon outgrew those stories and began to understand them at a deeper level.

Yet there are many adults these days who still believe that the horned creature exists. They might not believe in Santa but they believe in this creature.

(It can be useful to believe in these old children stories. Because it takes the pressure off you. You can always blame it on the devil.)

It’s an interesting disconnect but it does beg the question.

How do you decide what is metaphor and what is meant to be taken literally?


Internal evidence

May.5. 2017

One of the things that evangelists, especially televangelists, like to do is claim that “God” spoke to them.

It’s easy to be skeptical. Anyone can claim that God is speaking to them.

But I’ve since discovered that what they really mean is that they have an intuition or inspiration about something and they’re saying it’s God speaking to them through these intuitions.

And in a sense they are right. Inspirations do come from a mysterious place which no one can explain and the best thing is to attribute it to the Force in the universe.

This fact is not lost on the ancients.

For instance both the words inspire and spirit are derived from the same word “spirare” which means “breathe.”

To be inspired is to hear from the Spirit.

But what if the voices they heard are not from God but instead from the other guy?

In other words, what makes them so sure that what they’re hearing is the voice of God and not the adversary?

(Adversary here refers to the troublemaker, the downshifter, the one who destroys rather than build.)

From the content.

Among research scholars, it’s called internal evidence.

Let’s say you have a dubious work that is claimed to be the work of a great master, but there’s no external or physical proof to establish that.

So what do you do? You examine the work and try to determine if the content matches the content of other authenticated works of the master.

You determine authenticity through content.

In the same way, if someone claims that God spoke to them, look at the content of the message.

If the voice is telling them to do good, to make the world a more joyful place, it is likely it is coming from who they think it is.

But if it’s telling them to wreak havoc on the world and bring misery to their fellowmen, then it’s likely it’s from the other guy.

And if they still think it’s God’s voice telling them to do all these bad stuff, maybe they’re actually worshiping the wrong guy, they’re worshiping the troublemaker.


Deciphering 2

May.4. 2017

The concept of metaphor is key to understanding ancient wisdom.

Take the passage in one ancient book which claimed that the Creator made man out of dust and breathe His spirit into him.

The passage is clearly telling us that we are all made of dust (which is true), but that there’s another dimension within us which is spiritual.

If you look around, the metaphor of dust and spirit applies to the rest of the universe as well.

Dust represents the material (physical) world and spirit the hidden energy within.

This differentiation applies to energy as well.

When we think of energy, we think mostly in terms of physical energy, but there’s another energy which is even more powerful and it’s spiritual.

It’s this spiritual energy that is at the heart of this wise man’s teachings.

The key to creating a good life here on earth, which he refers to as the kingdom of heaven, is to harness this spiritual energy.

Kingdom of heaven is a metaphor for a life that is filled with joy, meaning, and fulfillment. (Heaven being a metaphor for joy, its antithesis, hell a metaphor for joyless and pain.)

Again, his genius is in summarizing this energy into one simple line, “love your neighbor.”

Love is positive energy.

It creates and produces positive outcomes, it uplifts the world.

Most of all, it creates good positive outcomes in your life. In other words, it enables you to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

It’s easy to see how this works.

If you love your neighbor, they will love you back. When they love you back, they create a positive environment for you for you to grow and thrive.

Contrast that to negative energy.

Negative energy produces negative outcomes.

If you do something negative to someone, you cause that person to feel pain and anguish. In some cases,you might even cause resentment. And it’s never good to cause resentment because one day, that person will want to pay you back.

Not to mention that if the negative thing you did breaks the law, you might suffer the pain of being locked up one day.

This is all simple common sense.

According to this great teacher, the key to a good positive life is to fill the world with positive energy.

This however, doesn’t work all the time.

You might have heard of the perversity of human nature. Sometimes the more you give out positive energy, the more people will exploit you and your “stupidity.”

So what’s the wise man’s answer to this?

He has two: the first solution–offer the other cheek.

Presumably this would soften the other person’s heart but unfortunately, he did not live in the 21st century, and he hadn’t seen the depths of the perversity of human nature. In the eyes of those who will exploit your “stupidity,” this solution will make you look even more like a fool.

For those of us living in the 21st century, his other solution is more realistic–shake the dust off your feet and don’t bother going back into that town again.

Again a great metaphor for writing off those who would exploit your positive energy or who don’t deserve it.

Interesting that despite love being at the heart of his teaching, he would also advise us to give up on some people.

Most of the time, however, his message of the positive energy of love will create a world filled with love for you.

Love your neighbor and they will love you back.

Love what you do and you will accomplish anything you want.

In other words, fill your heart with the positive energy of love and you will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.