Saturday, October 23, 2010

Three poems by José

In this weekend's CounterPunch, the Poet's Basement section published three poems by my good friend and dharma-brother José. The first poem, my favorite, is re-published below.

Wisdom is Not Half-Baked

We can ask the seasoned
How to identify the Great Silence-
That moist-warm womb at the heart of things.
A prayer book might get passed,
The hands waved over heads,
A tender look, a bleating lamb given.
Monuments have been raised trying to pass that torch.
Lamps were lit. In the algid flat air of knowledge
An idea or two might resonate. Aphorisms sometimes worked, too.
Still the noble walk secure,
The Good, with nary a p.r. man
Along the trails, where trees grow proper.
Some sit, inviting the shade to teach.
It does. Illimitably lacking science or spires,
Sprouting from that center, settled
Beneath the branches,
Atop the roasting, fecund earth.

"Do we have a soul? What do you base your answer on?"

I just posted this response to the titular conversation on FB:
It seems that there is something about being alive, and more particularly, being human, that allows us to have experience and to be aware of our conscious experience. There also seems to be a real distinction between "my" conscious experience and "your" conscious experience. So to that extent, I think that we have "souls."

If we take that experience, and extrapolate to the broader conclusion that "my" experience means that there is an essential, unchanging "me" that moves from experience to experience, then I start to have intellectual and existential problems with that conclusion. How much of "me" can I lose before I am no longer "me"? If I lose a finger, or even all my limbs, most people would say I am still me. If I lost my entire body and was merely a brain in a jar enjoying a virtual life, would I still be "me"? If I am not my body, but am my mind, then how much of my mind can I lose before I am no longer me? My memories, my preferences, my habits, my use of languages, which of these parts is "me"? Am I the same "me" that I was before I became a parent, before I went to graduate school, before I had sex the first time, before I learned to drive, before I learned to speak, before I was born? If we believe that "I" will survive death, which "me" will live on? Me at 18? Me at 28? Me at 38?

I would add that this does not necessarily mean that I DON'T have a "soul" or some "essence" that won't live on after death. The universe is far stranger than we CAN suppose, to paraphrase Terence McKenna, and so I can't categorically deny that some Other may have the power or ability to restore "me" (like software, if you must) in the future. As some Christian apologists have pointed out, most of us have no problem accepting the theoretical possibility of the transporter on Star Trek. ("Beam me up, Jesus!") If the flickering, flowing nature of my current experience doesn't deny my felt experience of being an individual with consistent, if not unchanging, characteristics, then the restoration of this felt "me" in the future isn't impossible.

And even if I insist that it WERE impossible, by my own admission, I'm a talking monkey. So just who am I to insist to that hypothetical Other? As the aforementioned Terence McKenna adroitly pointed out, "For monkeys to speak of truth is hubris of the highest degree. Where is it writ large that talking-monkeys should be able to model the cosmos? If a sea urchin or a raccoon were to propose to you that it had a viable truth about the universe, the absurdity of that assertion would be self-evident, but in our case we make an exception."

Ah the mystery of being human.

Please weigh in with your own thoughts on this question.

2010 Reboot - The Voyage Continues

Still walking the path, pondering a fuller commitment to Jesus and the "Body of Christ" via becoming a member of the local Mennonite church, wondering what this means about "seeing other people" spiritually. In light of this sort of commitment, is it possible to be a Buddhist-Christian, a Mennonite Freemason, and a rock-and-roll, shamanistic weirdo? Conversely, is it even possible for me to be something other than what I feel myself to be? Is my fear of commitment to one faith tradition a sign of legitimate fears of religious intolerance and exclusivity, a symptom of a larger cultural spiritual consumer mentality, or something else entirely? (I know members of this same Mennonite family who are comparative religion scholars, biology professors, and devotees of Sai Baba, so it is also quite obvious that "committed discipleship" is more complicated than it sounds and that I'm not the only one who must sort out these sorts of issues.)

I also wonder what G-d is all about. If there is an all-powerful, all-loving God in the sense that my parents and most other Christians understand there to be, then how do you explain stuff like this without being glib? Why does an impersonal Godhead seem more acceptable in the contemporary intellectual world than a personal, theistic God? Perhaps more importantly, what is it about a personal G-d that is less acceptable to me than an impersonal, panentheistic Godhead? What would it mean for G-d to be more than personal, rather than less?

For the time being, here are things for me to read for the journey:

Buddhism and Christianity

Through the Eastern Gate: From Tibetan Buddhism to Orthodoxy

Please weigh in with thoughts and suggestions.