Dear Readers – Words. They can shred our flesh, like bullets spraying from the barrel of an assault rifle. Again, we have violence on a mass scale – and the problems cry back to the fiery first moments of America’s creation. A nation full of immigrants, fighting for the freedom to worship God. Fighting for the right to live unencumbered by the fear of tyranny. Fighting for free speech – which has led to hate speech, which has led to hate action. Fighting, seems to be all we know. Our stories echo centuries of hate, as characters and races are endlessly tumbled through the roles of victim and aggressor. Caught in each individual cycle, we fail to see that the aggressor is also a victim. We fail to see the tyrant lording over us all – the constant fear lurking inside our own minds. Words burrowing into minds fertile with fear become bullets.
This is not who we are. “These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Pennsylvanians and are not who we are as Americans,” says Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, in response to the shooting. But as the deacon at my church pointed out, “until proven otherwise, isn’t this, exactly who we are, as Americans?”
The power of written word. Written in the Bible, the Jews are recorded as cursing themselves for the murder of Christianity’s Jesus Christ: “All the people [Jews] answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’” (Matthew 27:25). Even now, over two thousand years later, on free speech websites like Gab, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter Robert Bowers, aired his fear and anger towards all those of Jewish descent. Rather than silencing his words, how can listen to them?
Listening to the cries of the world with ease. Max Erdstein shares how a ‘bodhisattva’, a being becoming aware, might respond to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting: “A bodhisattva is said to listen to the cries of the world with ease. [...] So what is it to be able to take in the great pain, the great suffering that is in this world, that will be in this world, but not from a place of fear, not from a place of contraction, not from a place of anger? [By practicing this] when we are called upon [to act], that [ease] becomes our nature, [...], so we are able to respond [more effectively].” – from ‘Thank you for your efforts’ by Max Erdstein on the Audio Dharma podcast (at 36 minutes)
Dear Readers – A night of revelry is approaching. A night where we become our deepest fears and desires. Behind masks, we indulge in open opposition of what is normal or holy. The origins of this holiday date back to the ancient Celts, who lived throughout the British Isles in modern-day Ireland and northern France over 2,000 years ago. These people celebrated the festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), midway between the beginning of autumn and the longest night of the year. On this eve, it was believed that time and space itself was amorphous, and that the membrane between this world and the next was permeable. Christian leaders slowly colored over this pagan festival with All Saints and All Souls’ Day held on the 1st and 2nd of November. These holy days were referred to as Alholowmesse in Middle English. Eventually October 31 became All Hallow’s Eve, and today is our Halloween.
“From Pagan, to Christian, to Party.” On the podcast The History of Witchcraft, Samuel Hume discusses the ancient Celtic origins of Halloween, the rise of mob mischief, how carved turnips became jack-o-lanterns, and the eventual conversion of Halloween into a children’s holiday. // iTunes link ‘018 – Halloween – From Pagan, to Christian, to Party’ (49 minutes)
“Halloween comes to America.” The former History Channel by A&E Television Networks gives a nice history of Halloween from its ancient origins to our modern-day orange-themed sugar festival. You can view through the attached abridgment that I compiled, or using this link – which as a warning, is so laden with advertising that my browser nearly crashed.
Easter, Christmas and Halloween. Frank Dunkle and David Cobb from the United Church of God take a look at popular Christian holidays from the historical lens of pagan belief. They ask the controversial question, should Christians be participating in these holidays?
Dear Readers – I love watching cats clean themselves. Particularly the one leg up posture, which transforms the normally elegantly aloof feline into an elegantly shameless butt cleaner. All that licking eventually leads to hairballs, stored in their gullet, which are then vomited onto the floor, for the cleaning pleasure of their human counterparts. This reminds me that different cultures and people, have different preferences for cleaning. And that there is always a gross side to cleaning – such as a dustpan filled with hair, a drain filled with hair, a vacuum filled with hair… ah I see, they all involve hair. But there is another byproduct of cleaning, which is a certain zen-ness. A certain one-mindedness. The repetitive sweeps of the broom, the back and forth of a mop, the inch by inch of scrubbing. As if each motion cleans away a little dirt, both from the world and from our minds.
Döstädning. With a joyous and unsentimental approach, Margareta Magnusson recounts the experience of cleaning after her mother and husband passed away in “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”. In a desire not to burden her own children with such a task, Magnusson begins the process of death cleaning, where her home becomes a reflection of her life.
KonMari. In her popular book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”, Marie Kondo delivers advice for a radical mental overhaul. By cleaning rapidly – six-months is rapid for most of her clients – you can maintain a state of organized focus, and feel so mentally clean afterwards, that you never even want to go back to your previously cluttered lifestyle again.
Apranihita. Sister Ocean offers spring cleaning tips from the Buddhist tradition of her teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. Rather than a goal-oriented approach, she encourages the practice of apranihita, or ‘aimlessness’, as a way of spring cleaning her mental space. She recommends such activities as giving yourself a day without a to do list, or having a ‘lazy date’ with a friend, where you set the time, but no concrete plans.
Dear Readers – Walking the line between Nietzschean existential angst, Buddhist equanimity, and Christian compassion can be an absurd exercise. By zooming in to the utmost, meaning is dissected into its smallest singular unit: meaninglessness. By zooming out to the utmost, patterns of endless suffering emerge. Combined, we are faced with an eternity of meaningless, endless suffering. No matter how many ways we try to think around it, the future feels bleak. Even thinking itself seems to be inherently, anxiety-provoking. So what can we do? Beyond thinking, are two other options: observation, and faith. Observing the vibrations of pleasure and pain, without amplifying them, eventually creates a space of equanimity. When we turn our faith away from our own thoughts and towards something Greater, space is created for compassion. None becomes one, becomes all. Amidst this, we might wonder, what and where am I? Can it all be part of one, absurd truth?
Dear Readers – Two gladiators enter the arena. One a woman, and one a man. The colosseum is the great floor of the Senate. On the 27th of September, Dr. Ford and Hon. Kavanaugh, both battle weary from 10 days of media scrutiny and harassment of their families, gave accounts of a foggy event that happened 36 years ago in the summer of 1982, in the D.C. suburbs of Bethesda, Maryland. A stage is set for the turmoil within our own minds: man fights with woman, elitists with the middle class, Democrats against Republicans, delusions over the truth, passions over equanimity. Who wins, by stoking the fires of our inner turmoil? Who wins, when the public are sick and deluded with rage? Do we have a mob of loyal and angry consumers? Placating the pains of life with bread and alcohol, information and convenience? Bandaging these wounds, a glittering social media presence?
Dear Readers – Departing slightly from the history of King Milinda, I want to bring Buddhist philosophy forward, to the present moment. Right now, I feel grumpy and tired. Anxious about decisions that I’ve made. I do not want to see anybody. Why is this relevant? Because Buddhist philosophy is about observing reality as it is, not how we would like it to be. And that means, observing moments of displeasure. I noticed that Europeans seemed a bit more open about their bad moods, and so I decided to luxuriously enjoy my grumpiness. When two college students, whose banter I found annoying, asked where I came from, I grunted with one word “Bastia” and my mood spoke all the rest. It wasn’t mean, but it was grumpy. And they left me alone. And I was very happy, being grumpy. No longer forcing a good mood, I could already feel my exhaustion slipping away...
Dear Readers – Six days ago, I missed the only ferry leaving the island of Corsica for Italy. With a tight schedule, I jumped on the overnight to nearby France. Since then, I have been completely unable to connect – fully immersed in the dance between chaos and calm. I learned that in many places, free WiFi is not free. Often, desperate and confused travelers exchange their social media data for access to WiFi. For those like myself, without an EU mobile card, connection was nearly impossible. For the first time in my life, I deeply hungered for information. Unable to fully express my needs, I relied on the kindness of others, and practiced being radically open to the reality unfolding within and around me. I did manage to make it to Amsterdam on time, where I will be for the next two weeks. The newsletter will return to regular scheduling on Sunday :)
Dear Readers – We are finally digging into the Milindapañha, the eighteenth book of the Khuddaka Nikāya, or “Collection of Little Texts”, which is the fifth portion of the Suttaṅta Piṭaka, one of the three piṭakas, or “baskets”, which together hold all the teachings of the Pāli Canon. Like the Bible, different countries have different versions of these core teachings of Gotama the Buddha and his disciples, and my efforts will be in finding the common generalities, rather than promoting one version over another. As we’ve covered in the last weeks, the Milindapañha is in the style of a Socratic debate between King Milinda and Buddhist monk Nāgasena, set in the Indo-European region of Ghandāra and the Indus River Valley, now home to modern-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. The story was passed down in the oral tradition of chanting verse, and later transcribed into text, of which the original has been lost to history.
Dear Readers – When reading renditions of ancient text, it is important to keep a middle mind. If the mind is too open and unquestioning, the reading becomes a harmful source of superstition. If the mind is too closed and uncompromising, the reading becomes a harmful source of ridicule. The Dialectic of King Milinda is a stunning document which gives deep insight into the origins of our modern world views. Similar to the way the Bible was shaped by a council of Christian bishops convened under the authority of Roman Emperor Constantine I in Nicaea of modern-day Turkey 325 years after the death of Christ – what is popularly understood of Buddhism, such as collected in the Pāli Canon, was once uncertain and hotly debated. Over the next several weeks, we will move through the accumulated layers of human thought and peer into primitive Buddhism and Christianity, looking for core themes and commonalities.
Dear Readers – If today the world stage centers around the United States and Western Europe, twenty-three centuries ago it was centered around the Mediterranean through the Near East. In 327 B.C. Alexander the Great crossed the deadly Hindu Kush mountains from Bactria (modern-day Northern Afghanistan) through Ghandāra to the Indus River Valley, where he was repelled by the elephant fleet of Paurava rajah (King Porus). One-hundred-and-fifty years earlier, 400-miles away in modern-day Lumbini, Nepal – Siddhartha Gautama was becoming the Buddha. At the same time, 2000-miles away in modern-day Shandong, China – Laozi was becoming Confucius. While these three men would never have met in time or place, their legacies intertwine in the story of King Milinda. In the style of a Socratic debate, King Milinda – thought to be modeled after the Bactrian-Greek King Menander I or II – debates science, ethics, and religion with the Buddhist sage Nāgasena.
Dear Readers – Before we dive into the riveting details of my ten day silent meditation – I want to step back, far away from now, to a place where Greek and Buddhist philosophy first met: Ghandāra. It sounds like a magical place. Located between present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan, it’s hard to believe that this region was the birthplace of a so-called Buddhist Renaissance. Buddhist statues carved into red cliffs, famously towered over the Bamiyan Valley for over a millenia, until demolished by the Taliban in 2001. It was here in Ghandāra, as early as 300 BC, that Buddhist philosophy first came into contact with Greek culture. Artists broke away from the Indian tradition, which resisted the seeking of idols by prohibiting bodily depictions of Buddha, and created the first Buddhist statues. With flowing Greek hair and fleshy earlobes – a man who once lived 500 years before Christ, became immortalized as a deity.
Dear Readers – I didn’t expect to find a bridge between my Chinese and Western heritage in the Christian faith. But it was there: the rosary and the mala beads, the abbeys and the monasteries, prayer and meditation. Throughout my secular and scientific upbringing, I’d turned up my nose to religion and spirituality. These were opiates for the masses: the throngs of people too weak, ignorant or unprivileged enough to understand the truth of science, secularism, and progress. I felt superior, sorry for them. And it was this seeking of superior perfection which knocked me to my knees. My rejection of myself and reality – my constant dissatisfaction – had reached a crisis, and I found myself seeking sanctuary. With nowhere to go, and little idea from what I was seeking sanctuary, I found myself on a spiritual journey to Thailand, sitting for ten days on a pillow, in silent meditation.
Dear Readers – It’s been over a year since April 2017, when I last wandered toward your inboxes on a Sunday morning. Since then, I’ve been hard at work genuinely living the values that I have been espousing through Compassionate Technologies. I found that balancing ethics and finances, along with my own ego and curiosity, was much easier said than done – and I retreated to the sometimes murky trenches of daily, private life. There, I grappled with many hidden and slippery elements of myself – the undercurrent of religious thought in my secular and scientific upbringing, the insecurities and self doubts of being both a woman and a player in the public space, the push and pull between my own rational thoughts and powerful feelings. Through these experiences, I’m re-opening the Sunday newsletter. Simple and concise, I hope to convey my thoughts on ethics and technology in fewer than 150 words.