Link


An economist working at Valve Software has recently written an article that comprises the content of an essay I’ve been meaning to research and write for some time, now.

Why Valve? Or, what do we need corporations for and how does Valve’s management structure fit into today’s corporate world?

While I reserve judgment on the future success of Valve or its business model, I concur that the enlightened parts of the world will soon adopt a completely new system that might be called, “post-capitalism.”  In contrast to (pure) socialism or communism, this will be the “enlightened progeny” of modern capitalism–with a more efficient and scalable labor structure and market, and many fewer human/economy/government/etc. abuses.

I think that in 100 years or so from now (maybe more), historians will see the time we live in as a time of great un-enlightenment, wherein we allowed our technology and systems of government and economics to rule us, rather than us ruling them.  I very much look forward to the economic and political revolutions that will hopefully take place during my lifetime.

The ideas of Adam Smith, David Hume, Frederich von Hayek, Thomas Hobbes, Karl Marx, Joseph Schumpeter, and Ronald Coase are briefly cited/summarized and compared/contrasted with good neutrality.

I strongly recommend reading this article if you want to understand a little more about economic theory than is normal for the “average” person.

The Zen Path to Salvation for All Beings


Even though I’m a Christian (of the Latter-Day Saint variety), I find great wisdom in many other philosophies and religions.  This is an essay I wrote for a religious studies class in 2001 on the basic tenets of Zen Buddhism.  It describes the ostensible goals and methods of the religion, and may be of some use to other non-Buddhists, much as learning about it has been to me.

 

The Zen Path to Salvation for All Beings

By Dane Mutters, 2001

 

As with most other religions, the ultimate goal of Zen (Ch’an) Buddhism is to end all suffering. In doing this, all practitioners of the Zen tradition are considered to be “Bodhisattvas,” or compassionate Buddhas. A compassionate Buddha’s duty is to first clear his own mind and reach enlightenment, then to help every other creature on the face of the Earth do the same. The primary way of doing this is through perfection of karma, or works, and thereby perfection of the results of these works.

Karma can take many forms—anger, kindness, charity and happiness are all possibilities. But how does one control this karma? Is it good to only have the most desirable karma all the time? According to Zen Master Seung Sahn, this is not appropriate. He suggests that we let ourselves be a “mirror,” unstained by concepts and preconceived notions, but utterly reflective of others’ karma. “Don’t check your mind—when you are angry, be angry. When you are happy, be happy. When sad, be sad.” (p.69) When we try to change our mood and situation, we are simply putting a mask over the way things really are.

A true Zen practitioner would point out that “pleasure” and “pain” are only words, developed by those eager to conceptualize what they are experiencing, which only detracts from the original experience by taking the person away from the state of “don’t know mind” and placing him in a state of grasping, which takes him farther from satori, or enlightenment. (Sahn, p.69) This grasping causes us to create our own reality as we want it to be, instead of seeing it as it really is. For an illustration of this, I offer a koan from Beyond Marginality: Constructing a Self in the Twilight of Western Culture. Here, a disciple, Seihei is conversing with his master, Suibi:

 

“What is the fundamental principle of Buddhism?”

Wait, said Suibi; “when there is no one around I will tell you.”

After a while, Seihei repeated the request, saying, “There is no one here now; pray enlighten me.”

Coming down from his chair, Suibi took the anxious enquirer into the bamboo grove, but said nothing. When the latter pressed for a reply, Suibi whispered: “how high these bamboos are! And how short those over there!”

(Muller, p. 26)

 

Why do we want to identify and categorize feelings and motivations in every experience? Why do we insist on making connections where none should exist? Does the fact that some bamboos are short and others are tall have a deeper meaning? We should not try to associate everything we see with something other than what it is, or our experience will become only that—a “thing.” Once we have created a “thing,” our experience ceases to be. It is now no more than what we have created, and thus polluted. The goal of Zen Buddhism, therefore, is to rectify all names, and thereby eliminate them.

The problem exists in that people think using words and names. How, then, if we eliminate all such names, are we going to think? The answer is, we won’t. This is not intended in the Orwellian sense, but rather to the effect that true understanding, or enlightenment, comes before thinking and thinking before words, which lead to the creation of “things,” which cloud our view of reality. The solution, therefore, is to cut off that process once we have achieved a true understanding, and therefore cease altogether to think.

Sahn has pointed this out on multiple occasions to people who have brought questions to him. His most common response is, “only go straight ahead—don’t know.” In order to illustrate this, he uses the example of Hyang Eom’s koan, “Up a Tree.”

 

“It is like a man up a tree who is hanging from a branch by his teeth. His hands cannot grasp a bough, his feet cannot touch the tree; he is tied and bound. Another man under the tree asks him, ‘Why did Bodhidarma come to China?’ If he does not answer, he evades his duty and he will be killed. If he answers, he will lose his life. If you are in the tree, how do you stay alive?”

(p. 8)

 

If you don’t know, you’re on the right path. While a rational man might argue semantics, “being in the tree does not make me the man hanging by his teeth, therefore I will keep my life regardless;” a Zen practitioner will intuitively know the intent of the question and use it to better understand himself by probing into the nothingness that is before thought. To a Zen practitioner, lingering on wording only distracts one’s view of reality.

We now come back to the topic of karma. A true bodhisattva, intending to end all suffering, links his karma to that of every other being. So as to feel what they feel and to better sympathize with them, he must clear his “mirror” of all distractions. However, in order to avoid the pitfalls of those whom he is trying to save, he must first detach from his feelings.

Seung Sahn explains this to a mother who, though a Zen practitioner, became so angry with her delinquent son as to nearly come to blows. He states that her anger before practicing the Dharma was attached anger—she claimed it as her own, and was thus only able to let go of it after a long period of “cooling-down” time. After some practice, however, she showed reflected anger; she reflected the anger of her son, but after an hour or so was able to regain equilibrium and set things aright. With a little more practice she would attain a state of perceived anger. This kind of anger is still within, but very controllable. Eventually, continuous practice would lead to loving anger, which is not felt, but shown so that others would benefit from it.

This line of (not-)thinking points to the eventuality that all feelings are no more than our perceptions of them. Following from this comes the possibility that through ceasing to assign names and associations to our experiences, we can eliminate feelings altogether within ourselves, and through charity, eliminate them in others as well. Thus we are able to reach a state of perfect equilibrium, undistracted by our particular views of things. This equilibrium is referred to as one’s “primary point.” Sahn likens the unsteadiness of emotions to the shocks on motor vehicles. “A taxi has weak shock absorbers, so it bounces up and down when it hits a small bump. A train has strong shock absorbers, so it is very steady, no matter what. If you keep your primary point, your mind-spring will become stronger and stronger. A big problem will come and your mind will move, but it will soon return to primary point. Finally your mind will be very strong, and it will be able to carry any load. Then saving all beings from suffering is possible.” (p.7)

In order to be effective as a Zen bodhisattva, it is first necessary to disassociate experiences from words, words from thoughts and thoughts from the nothingness that is before thought. Having done so, a person can reach satori,or enlightenment. Once we have thus gained a clear mind, and are fully able to empathize with others, an end to all suffering is possible.

 

Bibliography

Sahn, Seung. Only Don’t Know. Boston, MA: Shambala Publications, Inc.

 

Muller, René J. Beyond Marginality: Constructing a Self in the Twilight of Western Culture. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Do I Deserve Love?


This is a question that has been aired quite a bit, and I don’t intend to tread any more of its well-worn ground than I have to.  Nevertheless, there’s an aspect of it that seems to almost always get left out of any such discussion, so I’m posting my insights here.  I hope this adds something substantial to the topic for those who read it.
“Do I Deserve Love?”

This topic is plagued with what I’ll call, “definition failure.” There’s more than one type of love, and some types require effort on our part to be worthy of reciprocation.  It’s therefore inappropriate to answer the question at all without first describing what kind of “love” we’re discussing.  Since herein I’m discussing all the various types (that I know about), I’ll use the definitions as both descriptions and theses.

For reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_words_for_love

“Agape love” (“uh-GAHP-ay”) is unconditional love. Many consider this the philosophically highest, purest form, but it’s unique and fills its own “niche” in human existence, and as such, can’t be reasonably thought of as “the” kind of love in question. This is the kind of love that Christ advocated in the New Testament when he asked, “Lovest thou me?” and continued with the admonition, “Feed my sheep.”  We all deserve this no matter what we do or fail to do to deserve it. Mahatma Ghandi and Adolf Hitler both “deserve” this kind of love.  If we, individually, seek to embrace “agape love,” we must (try to) show unconditional love for all people (and perhaps all creatures) equally, regardless of what they do or fail to do by way of “deserving” it.  This kind of love cannot properly co-exist with moral/ethical judgment.  (Please note that this is quite apart from the rule of law and similar concerns, where social/criminal justice must be enacted to keep order and protect people.  This is a very complicated topic that I won’t be discussing further at this time.)  “Agape love” doesn’t fill the role of any other kind of love, as described below.

“Eros love” is romantic love or passion (which are, themselves, different things that I’m grouping under a single heading for the sake of the present discussion; culturally, I think we’ve largely forgotten the distinction and should try to remember it). We must earn this by the various (and somewhat enigmatic) means whereby we get into and support romantic relationships. Ultimately, I think we all deserve to have this kind of love, but in order to have it in any particular instance (i.e. with any particular person), we must take steps to give it appropriately.  There’s no guarantee or requirement for the other person to reciprocate it, and it’s not our place to demand such reciprocation outside of some kind of “(semi-)committed” relationship (another complicated topic, in itself).

“Philia love” is love/loyalty for/to friends, community, family, etc. It’s not exactly familial love, but instead has to do with friendship and loyalty. This is definitely “earned” in most contexts, but I gather that a family relationship automatically starts with some amount of it. It might more aptly be described as a desire to be with, or be associated with someone or something (like a country or friend) because you enjoy being so associated.  If you don’t like someone or find their company problematic, you don’t have “philia love” for that person.  (“Philia” seems to be the root of the “-phile” suffix in english, as applies to everything from the understandable “audiophile” [love of music/sound] to the much more distasteful “pedophile” [you already know what that means].)

“Storge love” (“STOR-jay”) is natural affection–the automatic kind that appears the moment a child is born (i.e. love between parents and children). It’s another kind of unconditional love that has less to do with good-heartedness (such as “agape love”), and more to do with long-suffering affection. Even if your brother/sister/child/parent is a complete jerk to you, you still love him/her. This has also been used to describe the relationship between ruler and subject, in terms of the subject having long-suffering affection/loyalty for the ruler even if he’s a schmuck or incompetent. (Notably, this is more apt in a monarchy than a democracy, but still applies to both.  This is another thing I think Americans, specifically have forgotten–if for arguably-good reasons.)  This kind of love isn’t “deserved;” it’s automatic.

So, in summary (and to more succinctly answer the question at-hand), we only “deserve” some kinds of love whereas others we have to earn. We seem to automatically “deserve” “agape” and “storge” love (though the herein-active definition of “deserve” is somewhat different from the usual one), while “eros” and “philia” are varieties that we only “deserve” based on what we do or fail to do–but as human beings, we can be reasonably thought to “deserve” these in the abstract, “everyone-deserves-to-experience-them” context. Also, there’s no guarantee that “eros” or “philia” will be reciprocated, no matter how much we (think we) deserve that reciprocation. Finally, it bears noting that there might be other varieties of love that neither I nor the ancient Greeks thought of.

So, perhaps the next time someone asks the question, “Do I deserve love?” or some variation thereof (“Does he/she deserve love?”), you’ll be better equipped to gather exactly what this query is asking, and how to respond helpfully/knowledgeably–including when you’re the one asking it.  Well, that’s assuming I’ve been helpful/knowledgeable in this post…