Friday, July 18, 2008

Who Am I ?

It has occurred to me a number of times that --- if we were somehow able to "forget who we are" --- we might have a much better chance of finding out our truer identity.

This may seem like a strange idea, but I don't think it is.

Who we think we are is a construct of our minds. It is said that we wear different "masks" depending on whether we are acting as the father of the family; the manager at a company; a member of a sport's team.

Underneath these masks is what we believe to be a "true" identity, but this is not so. We are a product of genetics, our environment throughout our lives, and the way we adjust to these things. This adjustment is unconscious, semi-conscious and conscious at very times. We form concepts of who we are and then we "live" up to them. One concept or a group of them gives birth to new concepts --- all of which form the construct of our identity, which may be aptly called our "ego" or perhaps not. Whatever we call it --- it is who we think we are.

The idea of finding our true self is found in many religions.

St. Paul spoke of the "old man" (the ego?) being crucified with Christ, and as a result a "new man" (new self?) would rise with the risen Jesus.

Jesus, himself, in Matthew says -- For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. This can be interpreted as forgetting or losing one's construct of one's self -- so that another may be discovered and absorbed. When this occurs, it is not as though the individual "born again" has no connection with what came before --- but the self image has been shattered in order than a new a more correct, more life giving will arise. In this case it might be called the Christ image or self.

In Shin (Pure Land) Buddhism, the person discovers that he/she can not through self power be "saved", "liberated" -- orwhatever term you wish to use. This individual turns to Amida, the Buddha of Compassion (and Wisdom) --- and relies solely on Amida's grace to create a inner transformation. The individual "steps aside" and allows Amida to "be in the driver's seat". She/he from then on lives a life without pretense, simple, natural --- not attempting to be this person or that, i.e. to live with an eye on his supposed "construct" or image. No longer required to be "this way or that" the human being can allow a new and truer self to emerge.

In Hinduism, especially in its Vedantic teachings --- an individual's true Self is not the constructed self or ego --- but a spark of the divinity, absolute or Brahman -- which is within us and simple called The Self. In this case, the process is allowing the constructed self to weaken so that the essential Self can take its place. Through some type of spiritual practice (sadhana) the devotee scrapes away or disperses the mists that obscure her/ his real Self.

Again, though, one person will not be the same as another in non-essential or relative ways.

Monday, February 04, 2008

What Is Important for Me When Voting

A few days ago, I decided to determine what are the most important issues -- for me -- when voting.

In first place, The Earth. The candidate that is most "friendly" to the planet, its needs, its health is the one that would get my vote. Economic growth, social justice, war and peace, democratic values, morality ---- come after The Earth.

The Earth is in grave danger. It may already be too late -- despite our vaunted science and technology-- to undo the terrible harm done by our neglect caused by our selfish pursuit of power, entertainment, excitement, fun etc. The greatest danger to a person is the "self", the "ego" that believes it is God. The greatest danger to our survival -- to The Earth is humanity's refusal to believe that they can indulge their ephemeral desires at no cost.

Secondly, social justice. I have been reading a great deal lately about Jesus' plan for the world --- the kingdom of God. Most Christians may believe that Jesus mission was to teach us what God wanted from us so that we could please Him -- and thereby enter the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. I suppose in my early Catholic days --- I might have thought this way too. However, I give Catholicism credit for always seeming to have a deep strand of social justice within it. Social justice means concern for the poor and the disenfranchised.
My reading lately leads me to believe that Jesus had an inspiration --- a vision of what a kingdom ruled by God would be like NOW. Not in the afterlife. Jesus was leading people to understand what this kingdom would look like and what it would mean to life on earth in the present --- if it was realized.(I am going to write more on this in another blog.)

I have always felt I had an addiction to fairness. Our family -- the five of us --lived in a 1350 sq. ft. home built on a slab (no basement). And yet, at times, I felt guilty that we had it so good. I even once thought of selling everything and moving to Africa and try to live a simple life helping the outcasts -- what Africans were (and are) to the Western powers. Naturally, I did not do it --- I did not think my family would come along.

I think of myself more as a Buddhist than anything else. However, it seems as though I have many strands of many perspectives. You don't have to be a Christian or a Buddhist to strive for and believe in social justice. Many Muslims, atheists, secular humanists, agnostics, Hindus, Jews .. believe it's time for social justice. You do, though, need a heart that feels compassion and an inner being that is fair-minded.

Part of our disregard for those less fortunate is our isolation from them. Even in our main stream media we are seldom, and then only briefly made aware of the situations in our inner cities, facing the victims of Katrina, the plight of those in Africa, e.g. Darfur, Somalia.

Thirdly, peace. War is wasteful. It takes human lives. It despoils the planet. It comes from the three roots of suffering spoken up by The Buddha: greed (lust) hatred (anger) and ignorance (delusion). There may have been a few "just" wars, but not many. Most armed conflict stems from greed or hatred. We must ditch nationalism -- modern day tribalism. As long as we don't see the world and its people as one family beyond borders, beyond creeds (economic, political or religious) --- there will be wars. One of the worst example of a war is our invasion of Iraq. What were our real reasons? What have we gained? What misery, suffering and deaths have resulted? What could have been done with the two trillion dollars -- that experts believe (when you add in all the effects of the war) will be the actual cost? Could we have dealt with Katrina more quickly? Would Bush have to twice veto funds for increased child health programs? We could have given grants to Mexico to help them set things right down there. It might be cheaper than building a wall and hiring more and more border agents.

War is a terrible unproductive use of wealth. It goes down the drain.

Fourth, is to create a real democracy in the U.S.A. instead of the pseudo one we have.

I have decided to think outside the box, by that I mean to think of what a real democracy would be like -- not what is realistic -- or practical -- not even what some people (and there are many, many views) think our "Founding Fathers" wanted, imagined, intended. After all, it is no longer their country, their democracy --- it is ours. Maybe they did not have it quite right. Maybe the Constitution was not carried down from Mt. Sinai on Moses' second trip.

For me a democracy serves the "common good". It is a government which seeks what is "best" for the people-- on a one person-one vote approach. Everyone has a right to live, to work, to have adequate health care, to have a voice. They also have a right to be represented by people in the White House, the Senate, and the House --- who serve, care for them--- the people. Corporations, regardless of the judicial error made in the late 19th century) are not people. They should not have the rights of people. They should be the servants of the people. They should not be our masters. They should not be "calling the tune". We have been told that they are amoral and need only to serve the financial interests of their shareholders. If this is true --- then they are threat to our democratic nation, and must be watched, and must be in the control of the people ultimately. Otherwise, they do not belong. They are not doing us a favor. We are graciously allowing them to be here as long as they serve the common good. This does not mean they cannot make a reasonable profit.

Specifically what are some or the things that prevent us from having a more vital, authentic, real, not illusory democracy:

* We need a multi-party system --- not just two parties both captured by corporate interests. To do this we need to make it easier for third parties to get on the ballot. At present there is almost a conspacy -- led by the two big parties --to make this difficult or impossible.We should require that the third party candidates be given a seat at all debates on television. The stations are using the PUBLIC airwaves and should do something to serve the national interest.

Media: The media is too concentrated - controlled by a handful of major conglomerates -- and it is getting worse all the time especially during these Bush years when the FCC has been in the pocket of the corporate interests who see media outlets: newspaper, magazines, tv, radio -- as simply profit producing entities. When actually, they are the lifeblood of an informed electorate. Something the Jefferson said that -- if not present -- would destroy the republic. There should be more room for minority and local outlets. More opportunity for alternative views.

Elections: Get rid of the electoral college. Require every voting machine to have a paper trail. I believe the software behind these machines should be known to the government. If firmswant to be allowed to partake in our elections -- the software should be in possession of the nation. They should not claim that the software is confidential -- a trade secret. If all companies refuse to provide the information, than our government is perfectly capable to creating its own machines.

All of these primaries, caucuses, etc. at various times and in various configurations are counterproductive. Can't we find some academics who could figure out a pattern and organization that would serve fairness and informativeness? Elections should be either run with government funds, or there should be much, much more control and regulation of campaign spending. One simple approach would be to set limits on how much each candidate can spend. (The freedom of speech argument "protects my right to give as much as I want" --- is BOGUS.)

We should re-instate the rule of giving equal time for political time for those who cannot afford the rates. There will be rending of garments and gnashing of teeth by the corporations and the very wealthy over these ideas. This is a sign we are on the right track. We want the people to have candidates who will serve them, and rule for the common good. And we want to do away with all the dirty tricks and shenanigans devised to prevent an accurate and honest vote. America looks pitiful during election time. It's a joke.

Constitutional Democracy must be re-discovered. No more "signing statements," no more thwarting the balance of powers; claiming secrecy; demanding executive privilege. All of these things are means for the unitary Executive, dreamed of by Hamiltion, but deadly to our government to flourish. Each branch of government should be active: challenging each other.

What we have now are two parties who believe in making sure that each one remains in power. There is no question in my mind that the Republicans, especially the modern version are much more adept at dirty tricks, secrecy and contempt for the people than the Democrats. I know Bush II is no Senator Robert Taft; he is light years away from Eisenhower. They are a disgrace. The Democrats are far from perfect, but IMO they do not exhibit the open and brazen immorality of the Republicans who blatantly run the country for the corporations and the few (with salutes at times to the Christian far right). Their opponents, the Democrats, are "scaredy cats --- worried that they may displease or irritate; not seizing the moment and going for broke. They seem gutless. They need a bold progressive message and plan for the country. The bulk of Americans believe in liberal values. Why can't the Democrats get their act together. Answer: They are almost as bought and paid for by Big Business as the GOP.

Who will receive my vote? The candidates who share my values: The Earth, Social Justice, Peace, and true Democratic Government.