In the midst of my finals I've found the time to send you all this newsletter. I'm in the process of studying for a Buddhism test for which I have to read some very difficult texts. Finishing and sending this newsletter gives me a good excuse to rest my brain a bit. As you can see below I've added a significant amount of material (mainly Buddhist) to my website, over the past month.
I will be going to the American Summer school in July, so any of you from the USA who may want to meet me: here is your chance.
Every once in a while I discover a new online service that I just can't stop myself from sharing. A few months back that service was stumbleupon, a way of discovering interesting sites, and sharing them. I also use it to check whether a software download is likely to be useful and safe. My commentblog is also hosted there.
Recently I've discovered another social bookmarking tool, which has other features which are perhaps more useful for you, my readers. Furl is a bookmarking tool that also saves your pages. As with stumbleupon there is also a sharing option: that's the social part (my furled pages). But because it also saves pages it is a good way of making sure information you find important will stay available for you. Because it is an online service you can look at it from any computer. Bookmarking in furl is a bit harder than thumbing up in stumbleupon. At the moment furl is also somewhat slower.
I do think though that Furl is more useful for busy people than stumbleupon.
Stumbleupon is great for discovering new sites on subjects that interest you, and for sharing casually interesting material. Online jokes, interesting news and often temporary stuff like that is great for stumbleupon. This does not exclude more serious information, but the general 'tone' of stumbleupon is more casual because contributing material is so easy.
With Furl there is more of a barrier to suggest sites, but there is also a more direct payback: you are not only sharing sites with others, but also saving them for yourself. The sharing with others aspect of it is less pronounced. For instance it is also possible to furl private pages and not share them (your bank-account for instance) The social part of Furl works through sites that get suggested (a simple list of links) and through search.
All in all I find myself using both stumbleupon and furl on a regular basis.
In the past month two social issues have come up, world wide, that are very related:
Disclaimer: I don't follow the news religiously. I would welcome any corrections of fact on the below piece.
Still, recent strikes amongst illegal immigrants in the USA bring home the difficulty of implementing national borders. The process of nation-state formation is a 19th century phenomenon that has been completed in most area's of the world. The problems associated with keeping up these borders and what that means for those on the outside of those borders (in a legal sense) is becoming clear. The physical borders of nation-states are pretty clear. The associated rights of its citizens are clear as well. The passport is the legal proof and symbol of those rights of literally citizenship.
The problems come when people have the audacity to seek their welfare outside the nation where they were born. Some seek other homes when their nation gets disrupted by war, or because they can't express their opinions. Others seek new luck elsewhere because they just want a chance at the wealth and opportunity present in Western States.
Most, but not all, of my readers probably have passports of the privileged countries: some European Union-state, like The Netherlands, Canada or United States. I don't think we often realize the privilege that offers. The news here in the Netherlands is dominated by a minister for cultural integration (of our minorities): Rita Verdonk and her fellow party-member and member of parlement: Hirsi Ali, an immigrant from Somalia. The former has announced to the public that the latter's Dutch passport is illegal, because she lied about her name. That's the fact. From a legal standpoint this is reasonable: how can a document be legal if it is based on a lie? On the other hand: how can someone chosen by the Dutch people be considered anything other than Dutch by adoption?
The story behind the lie brings out various issues: Hirsi Ali (as I will keep calling her) claims that she faced persecution from her family if she had written her true name on the documents. A few years later it is her brother that heads off the media-attack against her, so I guess she had good reason. I'm trying to imagine not being able to rely on your family for keeping unwelcome secrets and can only feel sorrow for Hirsi Ali's lack of support on that front. On the other hand, so some in the Dutch media claim: she sought media attention from the start. In her public appearances she showed absolutely no fear. From a tv-appearance she made a few years ago, I gather that this latter fact can well be seen as cultural: she describes the amazement in the home for refugees she lived in for a few years, when on tv they saw a man cry (in a reality show). In a similar way she obviously didn't show fear in public. She had a public face that was brave, and well-spoken, though a bit loud sometimes.
I find it hard to pronounce judgment in this matter on either Hirsi Ali or Verdonk. Both acted within the constraints of their circumstances. I don't doubt that Hirsi Ali would get Dutch citizenship if she applied for it. This would help her greatly, even if she is moving to the US to become a member of a right wing think tank for Bush.
The caste-system in India is another case where social boundaries, and ways to transcend them, are central. Theosophists have deplored the system from the start, but a new episode is playing itself out this year. First a bit of history:
Mindful of the great social differences in their country, the leaders of independent India made rules to give high-flying members of the caste-less, Dalits and OBC's, a chance at climbing the social ladder. A percentage of jobes is allowed in government service and a fixed percentage of places is open to them in colleges as well. Anybody who has followed the Indian news even slightly can be aware of the difficulties faced by those who become wealthy despite their lower-caste background. These people are often subject to gossip and social prejudice, far beyond that experienced by those who stay within the bounds of their birth.
Recently the government of India has passed laws making it easier for people of the lowest castes to get a higher education. This involves sacrifices on those higher (and richer) caste-children who are judged on their knowledge, before going to college. These kids are usually tutured throughout their school-years to be able to pass the stringent tests, and even that effort cannot garuantee their acceptance to college. The lower class kids will usually have less tutoring and therefore less of a chance at passing those same tests. This is why the government has a different system for allowing some of these kids to go to college anyhow.
Social boundaries, like physical borders, separate people from each other. I do think governments have a job in leveling the playing field and making sure that talented individuals do have a chance of rising to the top of the barrel or at least make a decent (and safe) living. On the other hand: social and physical borders have advantages for those on the inside. It is our collective choices that make the illegal immigrants in the US without rights. It is a very similar set of choices that now make Hirsi Ali stateless.
We are here for a reason. Wherever we come from before birth and go after life on earth, it is obvious that we are not here for a vacation. Life may be a school where each is a willing or un-willing student, subservient to a design not directly perceivable to our miniscule human intelligence. The universe teaches the pupil, the pupil does not teach the universe. Woe to he who would not learn his lesson, as it has been especially prepared for him. The heart of all is justice and order, were it other all would be chaos.
He who would be at peace with himself must be his own man. The acceptance of every gift is the exchanging of part of oneself . There is nothing free among living persons. One is ever tormented by the part owned by someone else until the balance is aright.
Other people may be the most important thing in life, yet one must protect oneself from them. All immature souls seek dominance over other souls, be it in subtle, so subtle ways. One such weapon is gift-giving. It is a shackle sure as any, should one be so foolish as to accept or fail to reciprocate.
Except for certain extremely rare and strictly spiritual purposes, the law of life is marriage.
The law of all progress is effort, effort, and more effort.
Defeat surmounted and survived is a lesson learned, and power gained.
A great sin is to force one's decisions on another, as it would be a great sin for they to force their decisions upon oneself.
The willing student is at peace. The un-willing student is at war with himself and breeds a hatred for all.
Fear is a ghost. The consequences of not facing a fear are far worse than the thing feared.
The law of all is order and balance and justice. There is no love that does not have its reward and there is no hatred that does not have its reciprocation.
A stallwart will in the pursuance of one's goal is a great virtue and a facet of greatness. A stallwart will in the face of the inevitable, against the "laws of life", is a great foolishness.
Those sensitive to the coarseness of the world are the greatest sufferers. They also can rise the highest because they have more to surmount.
If you are out of harmony with those around you, it simply means that you are out of harmony with yourself. He who refuses to learn the lessons he must learn from life hates those around him because of his own malaise.
The harsher the medicine, the faster the cure.
It is a law of life that a person will be tortured until he learns or faces whatever lesson the universe is trying to teach him. The bigger the lesson, the greater the torture.
The path is long and winds uphill all the way. But since the law of the Universe is balance and order, there is reward for all effort, for all pain. There is reward for accomplishment, there is reward for being in accord with Universal Law, there is reward in this life, or the next, or the next. Since the Law of the Universe is justice and order, no man is given more than he can face, than he can surmount. The reward of accomplishment is greater Being.
MANY people talk about the heroism of self-conquest - something with which we all agree; but do you know, I sometimes wonder if our ideas of heroic battling with ourselves are not just a wee bit hysteriac, even foolish! I do not mean the heroism part of it, but this lower self of us, poor little thing! It raises hell with us all the time, simply because we identify ourselves with it and always try to fight it and make it as big as we are. Is it heroic to fight a ghost of our own making?
How about wise old Lao-Tse? If you want to conquer your lower self, make it ashamed of itself; make it look ridiculous. Laugh at it; laugh at yourself. So long as you pay attention to something, you dignify it and put it on your own level; and then when you attempt to fight it you are actually fighting another part of yourself which really could be enormously useful.
I have heard it said: Kill out the lower self. Well, suppose we could do that? We should be most damnably unfortunate beings; in fact we should not be here.; This lower self when kept in order is a good little beastie. It helps us. Our duty is simply to keep it in order. Now when a man has a `fractious' dog or a horse or a cat, or some other pet, whatever it may be, he does not kick it and beat it and `lam' it on the head in order to make it good. He would be apt to make it rebellious, cowardly, and vicious; he would be degrading it. Thus the lower self should be neither degraded nor clothed with the false dignity of an adversary erroneously raised to the position of the spiritual Self. It should be kept in its place and treated with kindness, consideration, and courtesy, but always with a firm and governing hand.
Take a dog. A dog can be made vicious and cowardly by brutal treatment, just as the lower self can, for the dog begins to think it is its master's equal when the master pays too much attention to it. Just so with the human lower self. But when the human lower self, like the dog or any other pet, forgets its place and begins to presume, then put it in its proper position, but neither by brutality nor by dignifying it nor by fighting it. Ridicule your lower self, and you will soon see the lower self reassuming its proper position because full of temporary shame and loss of dignity - `loss of face' as the Chinese say.
Just so with the dog. Have you ever seen a dog stick its tail between its legs when you laugh at it? Dogs know when they are laughed at and it is one of the finest ways of handling a beast.
I do believe Lao-Tse of China was wise in his statement which runs to the effect that one of the best ways of conquering a foe is to make him look ridiculous.
Now that does not work as between man and man, because it is often very harsh and cruel, the two being on the same level. You can hurt a human being horribly and unjustly by placing him in a false position through ridicule. No; but try it on yourself. The next time the lower self begins to hold its head up and wants to tell you what to do, laugh at it; don't dignify it; don't give it position and power and strength by fighting it; nor on the other hand, do not abuse it nor make it weak and vicious and cowardly. Put it in its proper place by ridicule, and, indeed at times a gentle contempt. Learn the greater heroism. Laugh at the thing which bothers you!
The role a sense of humor plays in human life, which means in human thought and feeling and consequent conduct, and the role that humor plays in spiritual things is all too often overlooked. We may define a sense of humor as seeing the relations, the harmonious relations, between apparently incongruous things, the congruities as among incongruities, arousing a sense of the funny in us.
The ability to see humor in what happens to ourselves is a spiritual attribute. For after all, humor is at the very root of the universe; and I think that one of the greatest tragedies of individual existence has been the lack of the ability to see the funny side of things when troubles come. When disasters befall you, just try to see the funny side, and you not only save yourself in all likelihood a lot of trouble, but likewise you get a great `kick' out of it.
I remember the great `kick' I got out of a discussion between myself and my dear old father when I was a boy. My father had read an article in some theological magazine by some eminent Christian clergyman who pleaded for the existence of a sense of humor `in Almighty God.' I said this was simply grand; because although our sense of humor is human, small because we are small, yet, is it possible for a part, a human being, to have something which the almighty whole, which the Divine, lacks? So of course if Divinity has a sense of humor, I said, it is a sense of divine humor, but it is humor all the same.
I think that there is a great deal of sound science and philosophy in the old Hindu idea that Brahman brought forth the Universe in play, in fun. The words are different from those of the Christian clergyman, but the idea is the same. In other words, the bringing forth of all things was not a tragedy; there was beauty in it, there was harmony in it; there was humor in it; and those who are in this Universe can see the humor in it if they will.
Look at the religious wars and squabbles that never would have occurred if people had had a sense of humor. If people nowadays would see the funny side of things, then they would begin to live together, to love together, to laugh together, and to take counsel together instead of distrusting each other.