If Naked is the Best Disguise, is Disguise the Best Kind of Nakedness?

I was talking with a friend the other day who experiences an internal struggle, as many of us do, between the desire to be seen and loved for who he is on the one hand, and on the other hand a fear that if he does not manage his image he will not be loved.  He both abhors pretence and fears it is the only way to get what he wants.  When he looks out at the world he sees a gigantic game of poker — some cards are visible but many are not.  He worries if people are weaker than he is and are bluffing or conversely that people are stronger than he is and are biding their time.

I explained to him that I approach life differently — that I am what I am consequences be darned.  I have no strategy because it takes too many mental resources.  I move through life and throw aside concepts of success and failure, winning or losing, and this throwing aside allows me to be myself.

Aha, he said, — that is your strategy.  Your nakedness is the ultimate disguise.  By pretending not to play the game you hope to win it.

Not really sez I, I don’t see any game, and if I did I would not be interested in playing it.  But I do believe that your disguise is the ultimate nakedness.  You are losing the game on purpose so some day you will be revealed to all.   You are playing the game so as to achieve your heart’s desire, which is to have all your cards face-up, and to be found out.

Maybe so, sez he, but nobody knows it.

No I said — everybody knows it.

And I was right!



Faith vs. Faithism

Some important things in life cannot be proven, or, what amounts to the same thing, cannot be proven right now.  Recognizing that we need to push on into the unknown and commit ourselves without proof, is faith.  At the right time and in the right context, faith is great — it provides the path out of a conceptual or emotional or existential tangle, for a person, or a group.  The importance of faith is just a corollary of the importance of new stages of growth; sometimes we don’t need to get more information, we actually need new concepts or ways of being in the world.

However it is wrong to say “faith is important therefore it is correct to follow my guru” or “faith is important therefore the Bible is correct in all things” or “faith is important therefore the voice I just heard in my head was God telling me what to do and I should listen to it.”   It is wrong because these are all examples of proofs, and therefore not examples of faith.

The second we try to think too hard about the importance of faith in our lives and use it to justify ourselves — we need faith therefore I will have faith in this book, or person, or feeling — we are evading the principle insight of faith, which is the need to move on without any way of justifying ourselves.  I would call this move “faithism.”

Here is a comparison.    Sometimes we are judged wrongly and we need to explain why a mistake was made.  Sometimes we are judged correctly — we actually did something bad — and in those cases we can make a humble plea for forgiveness.  Humble pleas for forgiveness are sometimes the only way forward.  If a humble plea for forgiveness comes with a proof that what I did was actually not so bad, it is not a plea for forgiveness at all: it is an argument that I was judged wrongly.  However, it is also wrong to say “Sometimes humble pleas for forgiveness are necessary.  Sometimes I need to be forgiven for no reason at all.  This is one of those times.  Therefore you must forgive me.”

Because that wouldn’t be a plea for forgiveness at all.  Would it?



Spring Poem

The moldy soul is alone and rumbling on Saturday.

One is riding before him: the saint who has a seedling.

Im ik sam sab

Jiv duf huk

Zem um rit kol

Efa weli Yub

Translated from the Czech, Italian,Hindi, Dutch, Polish, Latvian, Portuegese, Lithuanian, Malagasy, Swahili, and Hmong.

freedom, philosophy, religion, Uncategorized

Four Sons: Four Responses to Problems

Tonight Jews celebrate the Passover holiday by having an ancient Greek drinking party.  The ancient Greek drinking party, as we know from Plato’s “Symposium” (from the ancient Greek word “symposium” which means drinking party from drink plus together)  required a topic of conversation that each participant would address in turn.  In Plato’s symposium the topic was “What is love?” which is an excellent topic if you are drinking with your friends and some of you are in love with others of you.  For the seder the topic is “What is freedom?” which is an excellent topic for a party with parents and children, since children are unfree in relation to their parents but we are all hoping are on a journey to freedom.

The children are more-or-less unfree and their parents are asking them to discuss freedom.  This will naturally result in a mixed range of reactions — ambivalence and sarcasm (are you kidding me?) spring to mind.  The Haggadah (the guidebook to the seder) singles out four, assigning each one to a “son” — although today it would include daughters (pictured above).

The four responses enumerated in the hagadah are:

1)Asking for an explanation

2)Asking “What does this have to do with you?”

3)Asking “What is this?”


The author of the haggadah has (or claims to have in order to be provoking) strong feelings about these responses, labeling the first “wise” and the second “wicked” and saying the older generation should be happy about response (1) and hurt and angry about response (2).  But if we think a little more deeply we can think about situations in which each of the four responses is appropriate.

A water crisis in Syria leads to a civil war and we are having a feast while the refugees from the crisis starve.


Why did this happen?  A water crisis.  Why are there water crises?  How can they be prevented?


What does this have to do with you?  How can you sit there and lecture me on freedom when people are not free?  Are you doing all that you can?  If you’re not doing all that you can, how can you expect me to do so?


What is this?  People are killing each other in a civil war.  What is a war?  What is a “civil war”?  What is a nation anyway?  What is this life of ours where this happens?



Maybe freedom means the freedom to ask the hard, intellectually challenging questions, to ask the questions that challenge the authority and integrity of those in charge, to ask questions which are so hard because they seem so easy, and to be silent — with shock or awe or joy, or wonder.








Two Holy Teachers

There were two holy teachers named Abu Zamir and Abu Amir.

Both of them taught a doctrine of good works, humility, piety and reverence for God but while the older one whose name was Abu Zamir lived simply, always had a smile for everyone, and never committed any sins, the younger one, Abu Abir, sad to say was the opposite in every way.  He seduced the wives and daughters of other men, overindulged in food and drink, took drugs, got in fights and hollered at people.

When the time came for Abu Abir and Abu Zamir’s transition from this earthly existence to the next one they made their way to the Heavenly Court to be judged by God.  God informed them that Abu Zamir would go to Hell and Abu Zamir would go the Empyrean Paradise of the Heavenly Abode.   Abu Zamir inquired as to why God would judge in this fashion so counter to the intuitions of mere mortals.

God spoke:

I reward you according to the effects of your actions.

Abu Zamir inquired: But I taught holy things and lived in holy fashion.  In what way were the effects of my actions poor?

God spoke:

Easy.  You made it seem that a life of piety was the easiest thing in the world.  With your kind smile and humble demeanor you induced many people to try to follow in your ways.  Almost to a man they fell into the pits of sin, because they were not as good as you were at resisting temptations.

Abu Zamir: And my colleague, the reprobate Abu Abir?

God spoke:

Abu Abir was the opposite.  When he rolled around his cave intoxicated and hollering or got in a screaming fight over some woman people said “Oh my!  If so great a holy man as that has succumbed to sin, what hope is there for me?  I must guard my mind, body, and speech at every moment or risk a fall. And so hundreds were saved.”

The two holy men considered this and then Abu Abir replied: We think that is unfair.  We did not have the information to know the results of our actions as you hid it from us.  And further, the whole set-up seems somehow perverse, and also stupid.

Said God “Keep it under your hat and I will forgive both of you.”

Say what?  inquired the deceased holy men, speaking as one.

God spoke:

You heard me.  Super-God is coming and if he hears I have messed up judging you two I am going to get sent to Super-Hell. That guy don’t fool around.”


A Few Facts a Theory of Dreams Should Account For

  1. When we dream we dream of being awake
  2. Waking life bears the same relationship to dreaming as enlightened consciousness bears to wakefulness.
  3. Movies are a communal dream
  4. When we wake up we are struck by the power of dream images which we do not understand; much as post-enlightenment cultures are struck by the power of myths
  5. Descartes raised the question of whether life was a dream and Western culture has been troubled by this, seemingly nonsensical question, as if by a dream
  6. In India the Buddha announced that he had awoken.  The enlightened state relates to this statement as it does to yet another dream. It is a dream of being awake.

Things the Dog Can Do

  1. Love people
  2. Eat its food really quickly
  3. Enjoy life
  4. Be angry and defend its territory

The dog has been castrated so its favorite things are:

  1. Being with people and being paid attention to
  2. Eating
  3. Playing

The dog acts to protect and maintain its physical existence, but does not suffer from fear of death.

The dog’s skills — fast eating, giving and receiving love — have an obvious survival benefit.  It has a good packet of skills for its purposes.

Some people have wondered whether a being like this can be spiritually awakened — as expressed in the old question “Does a dog have Buddha nature?”  The correct response — MU — indicates that the question is in some sense idiotic, and also, to me, recalls the barking of a dog.