Kleshas and Tanhas

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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Why Be A Line When You Can Be A Circle

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Excerpts taken from Rachel Naomi Remen’s In the Service of Life found in Noetic Sciences Review Spring 1996.
 “I think I would go so far as to say that fixing and helping may often be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.”
This sentence captures Remen’s main point. I think it’s genius to address one of the major factors in service. Most especially, to give a name to this issue; within its nomenclature, the problem itself can be found. Helping. The word is thrown around a lot, both in and out of service-talk. Nevertheless, the word has the same meaning in both contexts.
“A server knows that he or she is being used and has a willingness to be used in the service of something greater, something essentially unknown.” 
This “major factor,” as I’ve put it, is dealing with cognizance; the server has to be aware of the consequences of his actions. The issue begins when someone is performing an action for someone else, and lacks an awareness for the essence of their action. Its quality, intent, and recipient are all factors of this essence. For example, if a waiter’s quality of work is sub par, he walks away with no tip at the end of the night. When Jimmy Rollins hits a foul ball and it hits someone in the stands, he had no intent of harming that fan. Finally, the passive individual -the recipient of the action- also has to be aware of the action. When you put a dollar bill into the soda machine, it has to recognize the paper before it processes the transaction.
“The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life. The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me. Service is a relationship between equals.
I would like to point out that Remen’s idea of solidarity is not linear or hierarchical. Not to put words in anyone’s mouth, but somewhere down the line, when I was developing an initial definition of solidarity, I must have heard the words “meeting the passive individual on their level.” In my mind, this would require a higher individual to lower him/herself to a lower level. And in Remen’s concept of service, this would be no different from helping. The ego would be lowered, not the soul.
“In fixing there is an inequality of expertise that can easily become a moral distance.
My simple solution is that Western thought of linear paths (e.g. Hell-Earth-Heaven stacked vertically) isn’t suited for solidarity. If one can take a flat circle ‘O’ and place it horizontally so that it’s flat, you get an even plane. The same thing would happen if you cut planet Earth like a guacamole; the insides of the two halves would be flat planes. It’s from this model that I think a more appropriate definition of solidarity would derive. Servers and those being served exist on this one plane. Equals. There would be no lowering to serve others; just crossing the circle-plane to reach them.
“When you serve, you see life as whole.”
In terms of my time at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries, one of the earlier realities I struggled with was that we were exempt from helping. Sure, from time to time, we helped open milk cartons for clients whose gnarled fingers couldn’t do the trick without spilling it, but there was no constant physical activity that would boost my ego (as Remen put it.) In this sense, I did feel some sort of internal reaction to the actual service I performed. After the crashing and burning of my ego that resulted from the deficit of help I was able to dish out, there was nothing to do but be refilled with Remen’s concept of wholeness.

Written by Jack Viere

April 14, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Too Cool For Whites

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“Hey mister,” a young squeaky voice cried out from behind me and to the right. I spun around, not sure that the words had been meant for me-after all, I hardly thought of myself as a mister, being only seventeen-and saw a black kid, perhaps ten, hopping off his bike and coming towards me. “Yea,” I replied. “What’s up?” “I betcha’ dollar I can tell you where you got ‘dem shoes,” the child answered. “I’ll take that bet,” I replied, confident that there was no way this child in front of me could really know where I had purchased my footwear…“You got your shoes on your feet, you got your feet on the street, on Bourbon Street, now give me a dollar.” Tim Wise, White Like Me pages 93-94

One of the subtlest of encounters occurred at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries when I least expected it. During the ins and outs of service, I infrequently come across the other half of the facility’s outreach: the students. MNM offers before and after school programs for a variety of age groups. Kids are the driving factor for me to commit myself to community service on a long term scale. As the initial factor that led me to get involved after my freshman year, Camp Holiday Trails, a summer camp for kids with chronic illnesses, had me hooked on the first day. Even before that instance, volunteer work at the Special Olympics throughout middle school instilled this pull to the youth. There’s considerably more energy in kids in a camp or athletic setting. So if it wasn’t known before, there was a heartbreak when I recognized that that energy would not exist on the other side of Mercy Neighborhood Ministries.

Every time the preschool-aged students trickle by our doors, I wave fervently for no reason other than hoping to receive a reciprocated, equally energetic wave back. Just a quick glimpse of that long lost energy is enough for me. Never have I been disappointed; the over-exaggerated wave has always been answered. Until there was this incident…

It was like any other day at MNM; the sun was either shining through the skylight windows or it was pitch black from the clouds. I could be wrong in claiming normalcy for that day, though, since I distinctly recall that on this day, the clients were dipping pretzel sticks into melted chocolate. I designated myself as the transporter of dipped sticks from the dipping station to the freezer to remove myself from the clients’ prodding to partake in the ecstasy. This could’ve easily been the first time I almost struggled to keep up with the pace of the older clients! Vivacity.

In these trips, from dipping station to freezer, I had about a forty-five second travel time through the hall, into the kitchen, and back. It must’ve been on the second or third trip that I came across one of the preschoolers, alone. I’m not sure how he got free from the bunch, (nor am I sure if I should be portraying MNM as incapable of keeping track of their students) but there he was in the hall.

Maybe it was the excitement over melted chocolate and the rarely high energy level with the older clients that caused me to wave to him in an uncool manner. Nevertheless, all I got in return was a nod as he swagged on by, evidently on a mission of sorts. I didn’t really digest the rejection of a wave until my next trip to the freezer: “He just nodded me off!” With my slow processing of all the racial lingo and themes that we’re discussing in Race and Racism -which I would have to add, has kept me from producing a reflection worth reading- the word “hegemony” slowly crept into my mind. Something going along with Frederick Douglas’s double consciousness and the veil has formulated in retrospect. The little boy, to my surprise, reacted as a result of some shade of racism.

Let me first explain what the nod signified in my book. A nod typically ranks low on the list of acknowledgements and greetings human beings bestow on one another. Above it comes a smile, maybe then a hello, next a handshake, finally a hug (or kiss.) A nod has no transmission of emotion. It very easily can become a means to look someone off or even denote them as not worthy of a higher greeting. I am making the claim that this young boy was at fault of this as absurd as it might seem. But hear me out!

In staking another claim that hegemony, in other words, the boy’s relationship to me was somehow marred by my race (or more simply, my age,) I am trying to draw out my surprise at how young this black student was. Specifically, someone so young was already viewing the world through Douglas’s veil; this came to me as a shock. This kid was no more than three feet tall, wearing Timberland boots, and had his hair in cornrows.

A third -maybe the most absurd- claim was that this individual’s double consciousness clearly established him as black, me white. He knew he had some sort of power over me in a similar manner that Tim Wise’s encounter with the Tulane native in the passage above. This power, if not apparent in my story, is the same that leads many whites to feel uncomfortable when blacks, and even more so, whites use racial slurs. In reading the word “nigger,” one would think, “You, the white writer, shouldn’t be using that word.” The answer to the question why is the uncomfortable power that blacks possess. Why else is there such a word as “wigger?” There’s some sort of (unattainable) power blacks hold that pop culture easily interchanges with cool, or maybe a more timely word: swag.

So maybe I am reading too much into this two second encounter with a five year old like Tim Wise throughout his narrative. But maybe, just maybe, this is an example of how early hegemony formulates in a young black’s mind. Me on the other hand; I must’ve not come into contact with a black individual who I interacted with frequently enough to deem friend until I was in middle school. So if my three claims are preposterous, at least I can vouch for my own belated awakening to my white ignorance…

Written by Jack Viere

March 14, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Aristotle Don’t Like No Gossip

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Moreover, the friendship of good people is the only one that is immune to slander. For it is not easy to trust anyone speaking against someone whom we ourselves have found reliable for a long time; and among good people there is trust, the belief he would never do injustice, and all other things expected in a true friendship. But in the other types of friendship [distrust] may easily arise. -Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics, Book VIII, Chapter 5: Friendship.

My philosophy course’s reading has come full circle as we are revisiting Aristotle. My first impression on reading the above lines was, “How true!” It’s a fair assumption to say that people don’t gossip behind their friends’ backs…hopefully. And then I thought about Peter denying Jesus three times:

As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it, saying, “I am not.” One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow. (John 18: 25-27.)

One of the more popularized examples of forgiveness, I thought that this passage went against Aristotle’s notion of no-gossiping. Peter freaks out like a lot of us would when under question. And maybe Aristotle didn’t think of our friendships being tested to that extent. But I still think there’s a strong contrast between the two instances. Peter’s mistake contradicts the notion of not “speaking against someone whom we ourselves have found reliable for a long time.” There was a deep sense of trust between Jesus and Simon before he is given the name Peter.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16: 18)

Not your everyday type of trust! Yet we see our human nature in Peter’s mistake. We are all prone to make bad decisions under various circumstances. In this instance, I believe that Peter’s betrayal can be seen as an example that proves Aristotle’s confinements of friendship. For, in the end, Jesus forgives Peter as he reinstates him.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” (John 21:15.)

So I’m left thinking, does this passage prove Aristotle’s point that virtuous friendship excludes slander and gossip? Or does this depict that friendship is not confined to these limits since we have the capacity to forgive one another?

Friendship and slander?! Oh my…

 

Written by Jack Viere

December 2, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Lions, Attachment, Punching a Pooch

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I needed something to be my next blog post victim as I headed north on my Amtrak trip back to Philadelphia; some topic would become my prey. Something easy, agreeable-like when a lion catches an antelope; it’s right because it’s natural. Hmmm, I thought. What’s my blog’s antelope? What’s shooting fish in a barrel for me?

People. An easy target. Look at how pathetic we are capable of becoming. And I’m not pointing out any physical qualities that would suggest our devotion to brand-names, cosmetics, and semper-updatable-technology. No, if I was to go after that topic, that would be like kicking a kitten, punching a pooch, or stealing candy from a baby. I said antelope. That lion has to burn some energy in order to catch his next meal! So I hope what I have to say next doesn’t come off as a kicking a kitten tone.

Attachment. The word doesn’t really seem like a “buzzword” as it does in Eastern religions. I think we tend to see it as a negative harm (not always) when someone becomes too attached in a relationship; “attached at the hip.” Yet,  Buddhism likes to state that the Second Noble Truth (of reality) is the origin of suffering derives from attachment. So, as we  humans, we have so incredibly and profoundly discovered that what we don’t like, we don’t do. What tastes bad doesn’t end up in our mouths a second time. Genius. We evolve. In the instance of attachment equivocated with suffering, we would conclude that we sever all of our attachments to things, peoples, and emotions.

that doesn't taste good

It’s a pretty tall order, hence, so many Americans turn elsewhere for a more comfortable interpretation of reality. (Still, in Christian language, actions deemed as sinful fall into this larger category; the harmful effects of attachment. In this instance, Christianity uses the language of lust, envy, and greed to name a few.) “When greed is our motivation, no matter how much we have, it’s never enough…When generosity is our motivation, we can find satisfaction in the simplest of things.” (Noah Levine, Against the Stream, 97.)

Last night on the Amtrak, I witnessed a lot of needless attachment; individuals being overly possessive of seats, luggage space, and leg room. And I’m not describing the people who just kicked back and relaxed once on board. I was guilty of this too; throwing a bag on the seat next to me to avoid any confrontation with any passerby that even dared to sit next to me. In this scenario, as well as more instances than we would like to imagine, our relationship of attachment to comfort causes suffering. “We begin to understand that clinging, attachment, and aversion are the primary causes of the extra layer of suffering that we create for ourselves.” (Noah Levine, Against the Stream, 85.)

okay, so it wasn't this crowded...

This is where I think my example of shooting fish in a barrel is appropriate. We can clearly see that in blocking the seat, we are being greedy and self-satisfying. And while my focus in this little piece isn’t about to go into depth on what the harms of attachment are, we can deduce that greed and self-absorption have a negative effect on our relationships. By perverting our relationship of attachment for comfort to serve our own needs, we ignore or blot out the needs of others. In this example of the Amtrak, individuals just walked to the next car for the next open seat. No serious harm was done unto the other passengers; most-likely inconvenience at the most.

Yet, beginning with the small things, our relationship with attachment to emotions and desires could cause us to become acceptable of larger hurts produced by unhealthy relationships. Sexism, racism, and social injustice are just a few to name. We like to turn that blind eye that we often turn when we experience something that is morally wrong. What enables us to do so is our subtle but continuous establishment of a sickened relationship of attachment to others. It’s not obsequious to say that a small hurt will lead to a larger one if the smaller one is continuously exacerbated. Pick a healing scab, and you aggravate it to the point where it bleeds fresh blood.

So we are pathetic. Especially when we look around for the origins of the negative ISM’s (like the three mentioned above,) we point fingers and ask questions about slavery in the 19th century that distance us a great deal from the racial tensions that thrive today. There is no mystery where our problems come from; especially those that revolve around relationships.

 

Written by Jack Viere

November 28, 2011 at 3:48 pm

A Little Dialogue

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I responded to a post titled Bad Arguments for Atheism: Philosophy is Useless on the blog called Students for Christianity. There are two points I think the author was making in his response: Don’t presuppose that Philosophy and Theology are compatible, and just because Philosophy is the basis for everything, it somehow remains irrelevant to the compatibility between the two fields.

My initial reply was:

Nice to hear this as I am currently undecided-humanities, planning on double majoring in philosophy and theology.
I’d agree with the comment above that “philosophers don’t truly examine the whole realm of knowledge.”
That’s the beauty of seeing both theology and philosophy as compatible and interrelated!

To which he replied: (bold: the points I was answering/replying to.)

Jack, it’s a tragic philosophical start to already believe that theology and philosophy are compatible. I’m not specifically saying they aren’t here, but you never want to start with a conclusion and then try to find arguments for it. That’s a brilliant way to create fallacies both inside and outside of philosophy. You can say they are interrelated, because necessarily philosophy stands at the fundamentals of anything, so its interrelated with everything but this is, practically speaking, irrelevant. They are two different studies that may or may not be compatible. Go to your studies and engage in critical thought on what you learn, formulate opinions over reason and never dogmatically hold them true. The best kind of dogmas are the ones we never hold, but eliminate by proving them true. But as mentioned earlier, if you start with a belief you’re more likely to fall into fallacy so hold no assumptions outright if ever possible (which I’m quite certain it always is!). It’s much harder to change your mind once made up, so whenever possible leave it open.

To which I replied:

I think that compatible might be a stretch if its meaning is to be taken as synonymous. I could’ve had some better diction there; maybe complimentary was more appropriate. My point, via analogy now, is that you take a religious powerhouse thinker like St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas. One was heavily influenced by Plato, the other Aristotle respectively. As a student, I can say that I studied one or the other. But to be influenced means that they (the saints) somehow took on the general concepts, ideas, or structures from the philosophers and synthesized/based/related them to their topics.

What I initially meant by compatible was that there’s a trait of mutualism between the two separate fields of study; they give and take from each other. Why does Western philosophy seem so teleological while Eastern philosophy appears cyclical? It’s quite a stretch, but in general, the concepts of Heaven, Purgatory, and Earth are vertically linear depicted in Dante’s Inferno (a great example of that synthesis between philosophy and theology.) Samsara, simply portrayed in Siva Nataraj artwork, implicates our live(s) are a continuous cycle until we achieve moksha. In general, we get the West thinking like l while the East is like O
At this, I’d say the average person subconsciously processes information in either way depending on his/her culture and what religious background effected his/her environment.

I don’t understand how philosophy can be irrelevant in this argument if it’s “interrelated with everything.” I understand that my point appeared to be presupposing that ALL things related to the vast fields of Philosophy and Theology are all one in the same thing. That wasn’t what I intended. What I do see in many situations is many a parallel between Christian morals that can be seen as a result of philosophies, or philosophies resulting from Christianity (it doesn’t matter which way.) The parallels are not always the same. I am not arguing that A B and C are all the same when it comes to Philosophy and Theology. But, there are many shared qualities that I FIND TO BE SUFFICIENT ENOUGH TO BELIEVE THAT A RELATIONSHIP EXISTS BETWEEN PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY. There is quite of giving and taking both ways.

Written by Jack Viere

November 17, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Map vs. GPS

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Today, there’s a readiness and willingness to accept information from machines at face value with no discernment. Technology is just a machine, a computer at best. There’s no human judgement values, personal experiences, or wisdom in technology. Specifically, GPS’s are not really giving you an actual destination. It’s a computer that is taking you from point A to point B in the GPS’s system. A simple equation. (We use to be able to solve it with a thing called a map.) The problem arises from our believing that the GPS is really depicting an actual, tangible place. It has the undetectable illusion that is presenting the driver with a real place by showing qualities of the destination. Just because a computer can intake data and spit it back out to the user does not mean it discerns like a human mind.

Google has the ability to run specific search engines that evolve regularly due to its tracking bugs that automatically find new data to intake.  A person had to preprogram the logarithm for that bug to have the illusion of working self-sufficiently. Technology is the extension of human discernment that is propelled by our seeming growing need for convenience. Technology is NOT its own entity that should outweigh or completely for stomp out the individual’s ability to make decisions, especially those affecting him or herself.

I felt motivated to write out the above reflection as a reply to a classmate’s self-righteous exclamation: “Do you even know how to use a map?” Directed at my professor, I couldn’t help but smirk at his idea that maps are already outdated. Maybe they are, but I thought it was quite the assumption to make. Anyways, to me, it sounded like someone saying, “Don’t you know that 2+2=4?” to a college professor. Of course it was said with the tone inclining some sort of rhetorical question. Our professor said he preferred maps over GPS’s; I concurred at which the classmate proceeded to say that maps are susceptible to being outdated. I don’t think you need Garmin and MapQuest to tell you that, buddy. I think the cartographers  back in the day were well aware of the fact their product was susceptible to change when new information and details were procured from further research. On reflection, this gradual process of receiving and editing new data seems more plausible (in my opinion) than the GPS saying, “Turn left now,” leading you into a ravine, which (I’d argue) most people would do as they have their heads down, texting away on their iPhone 4s’s. When the smoke clears, and we crawl out of the ditch, we would then proceed to say, “Stupid GPS! It did not update itself!”

So basically that argument is whether you trust a map that will become outdated or you trust a voice on a GPS. That’s really not my point because it boils down to preference. (I don’t think a map has ever misled its user into a ditch though…even if the roads are rerouted, we don’t follow the road as intently as a GPS, hunched over, waiting for Mr. Australian Accent to lead us to the next point within the list of directions.)

My point is to question why or how do we find ourselves so ready to accept information from technology. Why do we have a desire to let things take control (like machines) as we sit back and take the passenger seat? Is it really out of convenience? If it is, how are we any better than animals if our rationale is only to make our life more convenience? (Medicine, machines, weapons, computers-making everything a little easier for us, allowing everyone to take the passenger seat and let technology take us for a spin.)

I think Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity all point to being in control of one’s own actions and one’s own mind.

Buddhism: the Eightfold Path has a few points worth mentioning. Falling under a broader category of Mental Development, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration all speak of  self-control. There’s really no presence of those three in our lifestyle when we take the backseat with technology.

Hinduism: the Eight Limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga; I’ve been reading a lot into this in one of my courses. Pratyahara, control of the senses. Dharana, concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness. We might be shutting down our senses (and survival skills at that) when we choose to allow technology dominate our decision-making. We really have no shot of cultivating any type of awareness, more or less the inner perceptual kind that many faiths shoot for.

Christianity: this could prove to be a little more difficult since there aren’t many lists in mainstream Christianity. I’d point out that in the Catholic context (which has many a good list) the Seven Deadly Sins has a little something-something called sloth and gluttony. While that may be a bit extreme in the instance of the GPS, taking the back seat in faith (which is a part of every day life, even when we choose to make it not,) is still letting other people”’ and other things do our work.

On a final note, in summarizing, I don’t think technology is wrong at all; that’d be to argue that all the scientific advances (like medicine-that does fall under that category) were for the worse. Absurd. But in the field of something like medicine, it’s not the meds that are making advances on its own. Its the researches, scientists, and physicians that propel medicinal advances.

So why, then, do we take the back seat?

Written by Jack Viere

November 16, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Origins? of a Normal? Family

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Where does the modern family come from?

I was reading a ping-pong table of statistics in The Way We Wish We Were by Stephanie Coontz. You couldn’t make heads or tails of the numbers that seemingly bounced both ways. Consequently, the essay portrayed the weakness of statistics: they can be manipulated. Pretty easily, actually.

“For example, the proportion of youngsters receiving psychological assistance rose by 80 percent between 1981 and 1988. Does that mean they are getting more sick or receiving more help, or is it some complex combination of the two?” (Coontz.)

Raising an interesting point, I think Coontz did not look far enough back into history in the earlier part of her report. She used the colonial period as the furthest reference back in time. I found this inadequate. Her argument revolved around the fact that lifestyles in the 1950s and 60s did not exist as popular TV shows from that time period suggested. Another decent point made: TV is an inaccurate portrayal of reality. Yet, the other seventeen centuries of the modern era that Coontz forgot to mention (she only used 18-20!) hold some interesting facts; particularly the first century!

There does in fact exist an irony between shows like Leave it to Beaver and The Andy Griffith and the real world hardships in which they aired like the Korean War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the likes. Entertainment feeds off the high lights of life. They bring out the best of people and try to depict a positive image for society to adopt and follow (religiously.)

Gaius Octavian Caesar. Augustus. That’s going back. Quick Roman history lesson. He tried to reinstate marriage laws for citizens. Previously, within Roman society, it was popular for the periodic divorce and remarry cycle to carry out for the sake of gaining power. During his reign, and leading up to it, there was a shortage of marriages among the highest social circles. The image of the young girl being married off to the old man is what were looking at. Adultery was common. Remarriage to these younger females sometimes was a result.

So, to fix the assortment of problems listed above, he made certain laws such as ius trium liberorum (right of three children) that heavily influenced men and women to marry and procreate. There was the incentive of money and tax breaks (of sorts) for those that gave birth to future prospects for public office.

Basically, my argument is that this one man took up the responsibility of forming the glue that holds together what we dub today as the “nuclear family” of the 50s and 60s.

But like the irony with the Beaver and its debut, so too was Octavian’s family. I mean, we are talking about some cousins marrying cousins, affairs, whoring-the works. But, then again, maybe the 50s and 60s (in reality) wasn’t much different. Who am I to judge?

Stepsons, fathers, etc. The woman is Octavian’s wife believe it or not. The angry man is one of the power hungry children that was born of Octavian’s wife through another marriage. The two children in question in Octavian’s (Augustus’) will are Germanicus and Postemus. Neither of them end up succeeding Augustus due to the convenience of murder!

Written by Jack Viere

November 14, 2011 at 4:58 pm