You and I

You and I: Where does one end and the other begin?

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Pachelbel’s Canon With Some Juice

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Words

Words are kindling for the fire that melts meaning into our being.

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New York is the Home of Over 800 Languages

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Are Religions Different Paths to the Same Wisdom?

Below is an interesting piece by Stephen Prothero. I agree with a lot of what Prothero says. The goals of different religions are not the same. Eliding the differences inevitably leads to misunderstanding others. For example, talking about who will be saved is a Christian question, which most in the world do not even share, because they are not interested in salvation at all. Christians are focused on the person of Jesus Christ, while Jews and Muslims are focused on texts and words. Talking about God makes no sense to many Buddhists. Many influenced by New Age approaches desire reincarnation, but Hindus want to liberate themselves from it, and Buddhists view it as ultimately an illusion. Confucians uphold political and social order, while Daoists are political and social minimalists. Plus the goal of sameness is not a goal that all share. Jews view themselves as different, and Christians and Muslims want others to be like them.

Where I disagree with Prothero is his idea that “God” or “wisdom” is not one. The fact that there are different goals and multiple truths does not negate the oneness in which we dwell. Oneness does not mean that we don’t share fundamental values (e.g. the Golden Rule) and share important spiritual outlooks. Further, the fact that we have different goals and purposes does not negate oneness. It just means that our definition of “oneness” and “unity” is too limited and narrow, since it does not make room for multiple truths, paradox, and contradiction. There are not two choices–difference or sameness. That’s a false dichotomy.

Idolatry is making an object, a person, or an idea into a fetish. That is what both sides of this debate do. The “lumpers” privilege commonality and sameness, while the “splitters” privilege separation and difference. In so doing, they end up defining “God” or a “higher power” or the ultimate energy or “nirvana” or “heaven” or “nature” or “wisdom” in simplistic and objectifying language. They cannot envision unity as complex, multivalent, or chaotic. But perhaps that is what the oneness of “God”–or whomever or whatever you prefer call it–is.

There is not one path or one truth, but many paths and many truths held together in a paradoxical unity.

In this regard, mystical approaches offer a lot, because, with the loss of the ego/self, paradox is not a problem to be solved, but a dynamic energy in which to live.

©Laurence H. Kant

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/04/25/separate_truths/?page=full

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Noam Chomsky and Israel

I wrote the following to a friend when he sent me an article by Noam Chomsky from Salon: http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/feature/2010/04/27/chomsky_middle_east/index.html?source=newsletter

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Chomsky claims he is a Zionist, but does not really support the idea of a Jewish state or of a two-solution (even though he implies that he does here and elsewhere–he’s not serious and calls it temporary).  He does not take seriously into account Arab anti-semitism and Arab views of Jews over the decades or, even more important, the Arab commitment to annihilating Israel.  He neglects to mention that Israel came to occupy the West Bank in 1967, because every surrounding country was on the verge of a massive attack against Israel motivated by the desire to drive “Israel into the sea.”  What was Israel supposed to do?  Allow themselves to be slaughtered to feed the egos of those who do not believe that Jews have a right to defend themselves?  The goal of annihilating Israel and Jews still remains for many, obviously for Hamas, but even in the PLO and in many Arab societies, as well as the Iranian government.

How do you have a peace agreement when the majority of the peoples around you wish to destroy your country and slaughter or deport your citizens?  How do you have a peace agreement with a government which does not demonstrate a commitment to a democratic, non-corrupt, free society?  How do you have a peace agreement with a government that does not demonstrate even the most rudimentary capacity to run an orderly society?

Chomsky also claims in many of his interviews and writing that antisemitism no longer exists in any meaningful form.  That’s nice for him.  I don’t know what reality he lives in, but it’s not one I’m familiar with.  Perhaps he should take a look at what it’s like to be Jewish in France or Britain or Venezuela.  Or he might take a look at FBI religious hate crime stats in the US, which show that in 2007 69.2% of religious hate crimes are against Jews while 8.7% are of an anti-Islamic bias (http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/hc2007/victims.htm).  Chomsky is a well-to-do, successful, academic in a highly privileged institution who has no clue what it’s currently like to be Jewish in other settings, including the Middle East.

The real reason that Chomsky opposes Israel is that he is at heart an anarchist and does not really believe that states should exist in the first place–certainly not a Jewish state.  That’s nice for those who live in La La land.  I am certainly no backer of nation states and believe that they are on their way out as governing entities.  But I’m not so silly as to believe that we don’t need government and authority of some kind.

It’s sad that Salon would feature someone like Chomsky who is not taken seriously in the Jewish community, even on the left.  There are many others who could critique Israeli policies and offer a progressive vision of the Middle East.  Featuring Chomsky, an anarchist, does not encourage discussion or debate.  It shuts it down.

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By the way, I’m not joking when I call Chomsky an anarchist.   He really is a self-proclaimed anarchist.  He has written extensively on the topic, including a book.  My best guess (and it’s only a guess) is that a lot of his strong opposition to Israel stems from his own Jewish identity and his anarchism.  As a Jew, he is especially opposed to Zionism and Jewish statehood, because the very concept of statehood is anathema to him.

But, in the real world today, with the way people live and act, the possibility of anarchism is a fantasy.  It bears a lot of resemblance to radical libertarianism, which comes from the opposite end of the ideological spectrum.

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Rivalry

Rivalry misdirected leads to chaos. Rivalry channeled leads to civilization. Rivalry transformed leads to a new dawn.

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Yoga’s New Wave

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/25/fashion/25yoga.html
A movement against the rock star model of teaching yoga and an emphasis on practice over star instructors

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Snopes

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/05/technology/05snopes.html


At a time when it’s very difficult to tell truth from fiction on the internet, Snopes is one of those oases of reliability (via Dianne Bazell).

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Learning

We are here to learn.

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Habits and Feeling

Unconscious habits impede feeling. Conscious habits clarify and intensify feeling.

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Abraham Unaware

Why did it take Abraham so long to see the ram (Gen 22:13)? If he had looked up before he tried to slaughter Isaac, he would have seen the ram. Intent on his task, he was unconscious. If we stay awake, we will always see the ram.

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Shabbat

Shabbat: Letting go of time.

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Africa as the New Asia

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The Senses

Grasp with your feet. Walk with your hands. See with your ears. Hear with your eyes. Think with your heart. Feel with your mind.

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Film Review: “Green Zone”

I recommend the film, “Green Zone.” It has flown under the radar for some reason, but Matt Damon does an excellent job, as does the rest of the cast. With the same pacing as the Bourne films (also directed by Paul Greengrass), Green Zone is sometimes hard to follow, but it is always exciting and interesting. It takes the point of view (probably now a consensus) that Iraq had ended the WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction program) in 1991 and that the US knew that, but went into Iraq for other reasons. The main character, Warrant Officer Roy Miller (US Special Forces), commands a squad given the task of locating the WMD’s, but he soon realizes that there are no WMD’s. Much of the plot centers on whether the US should incorporate the Baath (Sadaam Hussein’s party) political and military leaders into the governance of the country.

The film represents a number of different points of view. Baath Sunni General Al Rawi (Yigal Naor) seeks to make a deal with the US; Freddy (Khalid Abdallah), who knows the lay of the land and serves as Miller’s translator, is a Shia Iraq-Iran war veteran who lost a leg and who harbors deep anger toward the Baath leaders; Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) is a state department official who wants to destroy the Baath and kill as many of them as possible in order to install those whom the US favors; Poundstone backs Shia Ahmed Zubadi (Raad Rawi, presumably an allusion to Ahmed Chalabi whom the US probably thought it could install as leader of Iraq), but Zubadi has little support among Iraqis; Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) is a CIA agent who apparently supported the Iraq war, knew that the US lied about WMD’s, and wants to make a deal with the Baath; and Lawrie Dane (Amy Ryan) is a Wall Street Journal reporter who wrote stories on the Iraqi WMD that lent support to the US invasion of Iraq.

For an action film, there is a lot of subtle commentary, with different points of view presented on whether the US should have allowed the Baath into the governance of the country. Most action films do not show the complexity of real-life contexts, but this does so with flair. General Al Rawi is an intimidating charismatic leader who wants to make a deal. His physical presence in the film oozes suppressed rage and violence that could explode under the right circumstances. Both Freddy and Martin Brown expose the naivete of Miller. Freddy’s wounds and suffering give him credibility and moral force, as encapsulated by his words to Miller: “it’s not for you to decide what happens in Iraq.” Brown was well aware of the US deceit and lies from the outset, but has a realistic understanding of what could work in Iraq. Poundstone is an oily power-grubbing political climber who has no clue about Iraq and only cares about his own advancement. Zubadi is a lackey. Lawrie Dane is a dupe. And Roy Miller is caught in a web which he only begins to understand at the end of the film.

Green Zone’s depiction of the chaos of Iraq and the hellish environment in which soldiers operate attempts to give viewers a picture of events from the point of view of soldiers and Iraqis. Green Zone clearly takes the position that were no WMD’s in Iraq and that the US knew that, but it also leaves open the question as to whether the US should have invaded Iraq and whether it should have incorporated the Baath leaders into the governing structure of the country. The film intimates that, if the US had incorporated the Baath into the new Iraqi political system, one of the goals of the invasion might have come to fruition more quickly: an inclusive, democratic Iraq that could serve as a political model for the Middle East. But obviously there were those with other ideas, including both Americans and Iraqis.

The film does not give easy answers, and that’s what makes it special.

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Embracing Life

Embracing life means embracing the hard stuff too.

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Reforming the Deli

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Gratitude

Gratitude:  breathing, eating, shelter, consciousness.

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Cirque du Soleil Show Kooza Wheel of Death

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKFAly6G5cA&feature=player_embedded

I’ve always wanted to try something daring. e.g. parachute jumping or bungee jumping. But walking the kooza wheel of death sounds like even more fun. Who wants to try it with me?

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Meditation and Prayer

Taking time to meditate and pray is one thing. Living in meditation and prayer is quite another.

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Ellen DeGeneres with her Hawaii Chair

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHiqVygN-w0

This is definitely at the forefront of new approaches to exercise. Whole offices can do this.

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Judaism and Social Action IV

One further positive on government:  the environment.  If we didn’t have federal mandates, Lake Erie would still be burning, chemical and other toxic waste producing companies would be doing more damage to our soil and water, I and lots of others would be suffering from more severe asthma-induced air pollution (I’m personally still waiting for more restrictions on air particulates–it would help me to breathe), we’d continue to enjoy the benefits of DDT in our food, etc.  Sometimes the mandates are too strict (I’ve seen that with our own small family property in the Boston area), but all in all I prefer to be able to eat, drink, breathe, and live on a healthy planet.  If you want it the other way, take a look at Love Canal and other similar locations:  that’s what we have to look forward to without government “improvements.”

Again, government (WE) sometimes does the job well and sometimes badly.  That doesn’t mean we should either rely on government or remove it, but frankly we need to look to ourselves and ask ourselves what we’re doing wrong or not doing at all.  It’s up to us.  Government ineffectivenss, impersonalness, and bloat are just smptoms of our own attitudes and behaviors.

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Evolution and Religion

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/opinion/23wright.html
An interesting approach to reconciling science and religion on the issue of natural selection and evolution. Personally I never had the conflict.

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Jacob and Awareness

“Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘The Source is present in this place, but I did not know it'” (Gen 28:16). Mindfulness is knowing it. Wake up.

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Judaism and Social Action III

An email response to a friend of mine:

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A couple of points.  You’re right.  There is a distinction between government-sponsored social action and social action in a Jewish context.  But the distinction is NOT between “government” and the “individual.”

For one thing, “government” is composed of individuals–just like you and I, they’re members of our communities.  There is no “us” and “them” (i.e. goverment and people).  That’s an illusion.  The government is “us”; if we don’t like it, that’s our problem, and we should elect new reps who will change it (obviously campaign finance reform may be necessary, but that’s ultimately in our hands too).  Posing government as some kind of demonic bogeyman is just another form of scapegoating.  It tries to fob off our problems on some other entity or group of individuals.  It’s another component of the victim mentality prevalent in Western culture.  Usually we think of ethnic groups as engaging in the discourse of victimiziation, but those who blame the government for all of our ills do exactly the same thing.

Government does good things, and government does bad things.  It built our highway system.  The Voting Rights Act allowed African-Americans to vote in the South.  It gave us the GI Bill of WWII, which allowed a whole generation of GI’s to attend college and buy homes and helped to produce the modern American economy from which we still benefit.  For all its faults, affirmative action and diversity have produced work forces that include women and minorities–I think of universities where I have worked, and I know that they would look very different without the pressure of government (probably hardly any women or minorities).  Of course, government does bad things as well.  Look at our tax code.  Look at the huge bureacracies.  Look at the welfare system.  Look at the Post Office.  Look at the mess we have for an educational system.  In the end, what government does well and what government does badly simply reflects on US.  Good or bad, in the end we are responsible.  Instead of blaming government or the “system,” we need to take a good, hard look at ourselves.

As to Judaism on social action.  Judaism does not view individuals as completely separate from their communities.  That’s why at Yom Kippur we atone for sins that we ourselves as individuals may not have committed.  And Judaism always views indidiuals as part of a larger Jewish community.  And the rabbis wrote the Mishnah, Talmud, and Responsa for the express purpose of governance.  They always envisioned a Jewish society in which these laws (civil, criminal, and religious) would run a nation.  That’s because Judaism isn’t solely a religion, but also a culture, a people, and a nation.  It’s both indidivual and group.  The two go together.  Tzedakah, etc., are OBLIGATIONS that Jews have both as indviduals and as a community.  The rabbis viewed those who did not do their share not only as making an individual error, but as disturbing the harmony and well-being of the larger group and even the cosmos.  And there were penalties when such behavior got out of hand.  I’m not personally a big fan of a rabbinic government, but, when we refer to the rabbis, we should be clear:  THAT’S WHAT THEY THOUGHT.  It’s fine to emphasize the individual over the group (though I myself prefer a more balanced and integrated approach), but in any case that’s not how the rabbis thought or think even now in Israel.

The individualism that some in our country emphasize reflects a very different tradition from the rabbinic one.  It’s a wonderful tradition that has helped to make our nation what it is today, but (in my opinion) it owes more to the Enlightenment than to any earlier religious traditions.  As for myself, I believe that we can exist both as individuals with our own personal goals and needs and as members of larger communities with whom we share group commitments and oblgations.  It’s always a balance, but that’s the challenge we have to acknowledge and face.

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Breathing

I breathe. The earth breathes. The universe breathes.

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I am a Walking Tree

I am a walking tree. I am ancient. I hear the voices of millennia.

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Our Bodies are Mobile Trees

Our bodies are mobile trees, our legs the roots, our torsos the trunks, our outstretched arms the branches, our necks and heads the tree tops. We are rooted in the earth reaching out to the stars.

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Converting Trash to Clean Energy in Europe

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God and the Self as Nothing

The Source is nothing. Nothing does not mean a vacuum, but no thing (no/thing). No/thing is pure energy.

A favorite quote of mine in this regard is from Dov Baer of Mezrich as translated in Lawrence Kushner,The Book of Words, p. 96 (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 1993): “You need to think of yourself as nothing. Forget yourself entirely. Pray only for the sake of God’s presence. Only then will you come to transcend time and attain the ‘World of Thought.’ No contradictions. No distinctions between life and death or sea and dry land. All the same . . . This can only happen if you forget yourself entirely. But it cannot be the case while you are attached to the tangible reality of this world. Fixated on the distinctions between good and evil and mundane creation. How otherwise could one possibly transcend time and attain ultimate unification. Thus, as long as you remain convinced that you are ‘something,’ preoccupied with your daily needs, then the Holy One cannot be present, for God is without end, that is, ‘nothing,’ no vessel can contain the One. But this is not so when you think of yourself as nothing.”

Here, “nothing” really means without boundaries and limits.

Dov Baer expresses his ideas more dualistically than I would (e.g. “attached to tangible reality,” “mundane creation,” and “World of Thought”), but his message is beautiful: To feel the presence of the Source, one must drop all categories, especially the self.

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God

I don’t see God as an entity at all, as a thing. God is not a being, but an energy that pervades the universe and transcends the universe. For that reason, I don’t even use the word, “God,” but instead use “Source,” or sometimes “Source of Being.” To relate to the Source, one must transcend all categories (which are, by definition, finite and limited). The Source is neither personal nor impersonal, but the sacred energy/breath that underlies all existence.

This is not an easy place for me to reside. I only get there at moments. Often I am deluded by my own self and its desires, which get in the way. But I do get there at times–certainly more now than when I was younger. And that makes all the effort worthwhile.

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The SOURCE

The SOURCE is nothing. Nothing does not mean a vacuum, but no thing (no/thing). No/thing is pure energy.

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Urban Symphony II

Bird songs, leaves rustling, chainsaws, lawnmowers, sirens.  Urban symphony.

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Urban Symphony I

Voices of birds. Hum of motorized vehicles. Urban symphony.

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Japanese Fiddler on the Roof

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGoRo-nPLOM

Now for something different and fun (via Dianne Bazell): Fiddler on the Roof in Japanese. It seems that the Japanese have a real affinity for this story dealing with the tension between tradition and change

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Healing Rifts Between Poland and Russia

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/13/world/europe/13poland.html

More on the theme of reconciliation: Here Poland and Russia

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Love

Love is the transcendence of self.

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Lech Kaczynski and Polish-Jewish Reconcilation

http://jta.org/news/article/2010/04/12/1011536/kaczynski-leaves-legacy-of-polish-jewish-reconciliation
May his memory be for a blessing. It’s very impressive how far Jewish-Polish relations have come over the last 75 years.

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Meaningful Conversation

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/17/talk-deeply-be-happy/
Substantive conversation and talking deeply leads to greater happiness. I have always seen meaningful discussion as the core of teaching and wisdom (which should be the goal of all learning)

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