The Practice of Freedom

Hola mi Gente,
I was sick as a dog last weekend I missed the third lecture of four I was supposed to give this month. Tomorrow, I will do the last lecture. I have really enjoyed engaging the good people of All Souls Church – all of whom are so open-minded and inclusive. I only hope I have met the challenge.

Last chance:

Sunday, February 26th, 10 AM, at All Souls Church at Lexington Ave. and E. 80th St.

Engaged Spirituality:
Moral Development and the Practice of Freedom

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Simply “practicing meditation” or any set of mechanics isn’t enough. I have come to realize that we create our world according to our level of consciousness/ awareness. It’s the same with love. For some people, love’s reason is the satisfaction of the individual. Love is something that you go “out there” to get in order to satisfy a hunger for connection. Similarly, religion and everything else is filtered — distilled — according to one’s level of moral reasoning.

Let’s assume that moral development has three distinct stages. At birth an infant hasn’t been socialized into its culture’s ethics, standards, and conventions; let’s call this the preconventional stage. It’s also known as the egocentric, in that the infant’s awareness is largely consumed with self — self-absorbed. But as the young child begins to learn its culture’s rules and norms, it grows into the conventional stage. This stage is also known as ethnocentric, in that it’s focused on the child’s particular group, tribe, clan, or nation, and therefore tends to exclude those not of its group. But at the next major stage of moral development, the post-conventional stage, the individual’s identity expands to include care and concern for all peoples, regardless of race, color, sexual orientation, or creed, which is why this stage is also known as worldcentric.

Using this consciousness map as a framework to understand reality one can see how religion (or love) will manifest itself differently in a person who’s at the egocentric stage than a person who’s at a worldcentric stage. Both people can be just as devout (or “in love”), but spiritual practice will evolve according to any one individual’s level of moral development.

To illustrate further, imagine love from an egocentric perspective. Love at this stage resembles a yearning — something like an addict’s need for a fix — an ego boost. Same thing with almost anything you look at in life: perception and meaning changes according to the level from which you are engaging the world. Religion from an egocentric perspective resembles the global wave of fundamentalism currently threatening our existence. And I mention fundamentalism in all its manifestations — including our own home-grown Christian fundamentalism.

During this last lecture I will attempt to answer some of the questions in the previous section (namely how personal and collective liberation are interdependent) and discuss if the Dharma (Buddhism) can facilitate the development of moral reasoning. And if so, I would like to lead a discussion on what our national or geopolitical dialog resemble as people moved up the ladder of the stages of moral reasoning.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

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The 12 Steps for Everyone [Step Two]

Hola mi Gente,
Many people take issue with 12 step fellowships, calling them cults and ineffective. I don’t care to debate that here. I don’t know if the following will get you clean, but it is what helped me recover and it’s a set of principles that continue to guide my evolution as a human being.

These posts are best read in order. My take on the first step can be found here.

Faith and our Deepest Experience

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We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
— The Second Step, Narcotics Anonymous

 

As most who read these pages know, I am an addict in recovery. I’ve been clean (yes, clean, not sober!), one day at a time (sometimes one breath at a time), for going on more than 26 years. What follows is a narrative of my journey toward wholeness. I don’t know if this will work for you, but if you were to ask me, this is how I got clean and recovered my life. My story is extreme and you might find it hard to identify with some of its elements. All I ask is that you try to identify with rather than compare my story. As they say in the rooms: listen to the message and not the mess.

I believe all people, regardless of whether they are addicts or not, can benefit from a rigorous application of the 12 Steps.

So take a thorough First Step and what happens? We’re stuck in a bad place. I mean, c’mon now, coming to the full and painful realization that my way of doing things was fundamentally fucked up wasn’t a revelation that filled me up with spiritual joy. Furthermore, my bottom had me staring at some very harsh consequences. The last time I took a drug or drink, I was in detention and looking at a possible 15-year prison sentence. Talk about despair.

But years before I got to that mess, the first time I read this step, I literally walked away from Narcotics Anonymous. My understanding of the core principle of this step, faith, at that time caused me a lot of discomfort. I am not a religious person, nor do I believe in a patriarchal God-in-the-sky. To make matters worse, as I continued reading down the steps, I kept seeing the “God” word and the phrase “Higher Power” and I decided then that it was bullshit.

Consequently, I went through the five worst years of my life. The second issue I had with this step was the implication that I was insane — restore us to sanity. Years later, when in desperation I came back to NA, I did so with a more open mind. But I still had major issues with this step…

My sponsor at the time suggested that I simply commit to keeping an open mind and to make this process a personal search. The beauty of Narcotics Anonymous is that the fellowship doesn’t demand you do anything. There are no “thou shalts,” no “shoulds.” As part of taking this step, my sponsor suggested I do a close reading and learn the terms. One of the first things I liked about the step the second time around was how it starts, “came… ” and then, “came to… ,” then, “came to believe… ” In a very real way I was finally coming to my senses — I was awakening. The opposite of despair is hope and I came to understand that hope is what the Second Step offered me.

Faith was a harder score to settle, but there are enough agnostics and even atheists who are recovering addicts because the Twelve Steps allow for a kind of spiritual democracy. You do not have to believe in anything, or join any religion. You do not even have to apply the steps. They are simply suggestions and since whenever I followed my own suggestions, I usually experienced tremendous suffering, I figured it was time for me to listen to some alternative proposals.

There are many different meanings of faith. At one extreme, there is the more common understanding of faith as blind faith, but that’s just one way of looking at faith. There are degrees of faith. In fact, we all have daily moments of faith and belief. We have faith, for example, that when we turn on the faucet, water will flow. We have faith that our car will start, or that a toaster will work. We also have many beliefs. We believe, for example, that we have a personality. Actually, many of us believe we are our personality, though, scientifically speaking, there’s no brain center that organizes personality. Your personality is a set of beliefs and quirks that you constructed in order to operate in the everyday world. Similarly, scientists have faith in reason and logic to solve problems.

Shit, some of us believe that if we shove money inside of hole in the wall (as many of us did in the 1980s when we copped reefer or heroin), a bag of dope will materialize. LOL! I’m not kidding. Back in the day, the way you copped drugs was that you’d stick your hand with your money in a hole and a hand with bag would come out. I had complete faith in that transaction.

So early on in my recovery process, faith for me had to mean a temporary suspension of disbelief. What that means is that I made an agreement with myself to keep an open mind. Sometimes faith can mean trust. I came to believe that the spiritual principles of hope, freedom, and willingness would restore me to sanity. And believe me, by the second time around, I knew I was insane.

I have been studying human behavior for over a two decades now, and the best definition of insanity I have come across is: doing the same actions and expecting different results. Even an infant knows better not to stick his hand in the socket after the first go-round. But as adults we oftentimes commit the same behaviors — especially in the area of relationships — expecting different results.

Sometimes faith can mean trust in a teaching, or self-confidence. As a Buddhist, my Higher Power is the Dharma (The Law), a clearly defined set of ethical and cognitive principles. In sports, a group can develop faith in their ability as a team to overcome extreme odds. In that same way, I came to believe that the fellowship and principles of Narcotics Anonymous could restore me to sanity. Why? Because I was seeing people in the fellowship taking back their lives. People all around me were helping heal themselves and one another. I have been to NA meetings where a particular individual cried in despair because she couldn’t pay her rent, then see her cry in joy once again several months later because she was able to pay her rent.

Initially, my Higher Power was the group. I came to believe that what I couldn’t do alone we could do together. Like a team. Eventually, my spirituality would evolve and I would come to embrace Buddhism as my path. The historical Buddha didn’t make any claims to divinity and his last words, as he lay dying (of all things, food poisoning) were, “… be a lamp unto yourself.” What that means to me is that ultimately, you must walk your path. It means that sayings, scriptures, or instructions alone will not save you. Ultimately, if you want to awaken, to come to your full realization as a human being, you must walk your path — whatever that path entails.

And that’s what the second step helped me begin. It helped begin to walk the walk, trusting in my experience that I could be restored to sanity by a power greater than myself. The Second Step helped me come to a different understanding of faith, one that wasn’t associated with dogma or religion. I wanted a faith that encouraged and emphasized love and respect for ourselves as a foundation. I wanted to experience a faith that uncovered our connection to others, rather than designating anyone as separate and apart. The faith I came to know as part of my recovery process and that I describe in this post does not require a blind faith or even a belief system; it is not necessarily connected to a God, though it doesn’t deny one. This faith I speak of is not a commodity we either have or don’t have — it is an inner quality that unfolds as we learn to trust our own deepest experience.

My name is Eddie and I’m recovery from civilization…

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, please consider helping me out by sharing it, liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter, or even throwing me some money on GoFundMe HERE or via PayPal HERE so I can keep calling it like I see it.

Resources

Addiction is one of the most pressing problems in our society — a society that actually encourages consumption at the expense of substance. If you think you have a problem, give yourself a break and try something new, it just might save your life…

Alcoholics Anonymous: Official website

Narcotics Anonymous: Official website

Books I have found useful:

Allione, Tsultrim (2008) Feeding your demons: Ancient wisdom for resolving inner conflict. (click here)

Ash, Mel (1993) The Zen of recovery (click here)

Chodron, Pema (2005) When things fall apart: Heart advice for difficult times (click here)

Griffin, Kevin (2004) One breath at a time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps (click here)

Z., Philip (1990) A skeptic’s guide to the 12 Steps (click here)

Note: The featured artwork is by Ben’h Usry.

Waiting to Inhale

Hola mi gente,
Some people got pissed about yesterday’s post and insisted I’m a cynic. That’s just bullshit. What I find insightful that some so-called progressives are now pathologizing dissent. SMDH

Waiting to Inhale

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(or Drowning in Love)

 

A wise woman and her student were standing by a pool chatting about longing and ambition. “What do you want more than anything else?” the wise woman asked.

“To perfect my ability to love all of creation the way I love myself,” the young man replied.

At that very moment, the wise woman tackled the student and before he could react, shoved his head beneath the water. Accustomed to his teacher’s sometimes unorthodox manner of instruction, at first he didn’t resist.

One minute went by… then another. Finally, as his lungs screamed for air, the student began to struggle and kick, but his teacher was strong. Finally, she released her grip and the student surfaced, struggling for breath.

“What did you want more than anything else during these last few minutes?” the wise woman asked.

“Nothing else was in my mind except the desire for air,” the student managed to gasp.

“Excellent!” beamed the wise woman. “As soon as you are equally single-minded in your desire to perfect your ability to love all of creation in the very manner in which you love yourself, you will achieve your goal.”

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, please consider helping me out by sharing it, liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter, or even throwing me some money on GoFundMe HERE or via PayPal HERE so I can keep calling it like I see it.

The Spiritual Warrior

Hola mi gente,
This is a work in progress. A very rough of the second part of my upcoming presentation.

The Spiritual Warrior and the Runaway Society

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How do I bear witness to the unbearable?
Why are people so deliberately cruel?
How do I not bring more rage into the world?

 

Towards the end of Emile Zola’s Beast of Man, an engineer and a fireman are quarreling in the locomotive of a passenger train. In his rage, the fireman has stoked the engine’s fire into an inferno. They grab at each other’s throats, each trying to force the other through the open door. Losing their balance, both fall out and perish. The train rumbles on at breakneck speed. The passengers, soldiers en route to the war front, are sleeping or drunkenly unaware of the impending disaster.

Our society resembles this runaway train. We have become a runaway society.

Some of us act within the world as a response to suffering. Still, at times it might seem our work is impossible. I remember being part of a huge protest rally in DC and walking next to an elderly woman and I asked how she could still do all this without being discouraged. Her answer is one I’ll never forget. She reminded me that some of us have ancestors who fought against slavery though they knew they would probably never be free themselves.

That was a powerful reminder for me…

What does personal liberation look like in a world gone mad? Is personal liberation a worthy goal when there are so many suffering?

Excerpt: In this section, I use my experiences as an engaged activist to talk about the Buddhist notion of the spiritual warrior — the Bodhisattva — who takes a vow to forestall their own liberation until all beings are liberated.

How can the Dharma inform social justice?

Using stories and anecdotes from a range of practices culled over a 20 year period of activism, I show how Buddhism has (and has not) influenced the work.

Question and Answer/ Interaction

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, please consider helping me out by sharing it, liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter, or even throwing me some money on GoFundMe HERE or via PayPal HERE so I can keep calling it like I see it.

Engaged Spirituality

Hola mi gente,
This February each Sunday I will be giving a series of four lectures at the Upper East Side’s All Souls Church at 1157 Lexington Ave.

The overall theme is what I call engaged spirituality

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Too often, I hear my brothers and sisters talk about their experiences during their incarceration and sometimes I feel some of us doing the world a disservice. Too often, we talk about the horrors of our personal experiences without offering the important systemic analysis that undergirds those experiences. On the flip side, too often I hear people talking about transcending their experiences of incarceration but, again, at the expense of offering our unique perspective on the nature of the moral rot that sustains this society’s obsession with punishment and revenge.

I will be offering just such an analysis during the four interactions at All Souls Church and what I hope is that the interaction with the people in attendance will result in a shift in consciousness — or at least a deeper awareness — of the depraved mindset that is the foundation of the punishment paradigm.

The interactions (not lectures) will take place on the successive Sundays in February (5th, 12th, 19th, and 26th from 10:00-11:00 a.m. each morning). I offer a brief outline of the first interaction below.

Hannah Arendt proposed the thesis that people who carry out unspeakable crimes, like Eichmann, a top administrator in the machinery of the Nazi death camps, may not be crazy fanatics at all, but rather ordinary individuals who simply accept the premises of their state and participate in any ongoing enterprise with the energy of good bureaucrats.

Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on “normalization.” This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and even unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as “the way things are done.” There is usually a division of labor in committing and rationalizing the unthinkable, with the direct brutalization and killing done by one set of individuals or institutions; and another section of society keeping the machinery (sanitation, food supply, etc.) in order; still others producing the implements of brutalization, or working on improving technology (e.g., a more efficient crematory gas, a longer burning and more adhesive napalm, a better prison or isolation cell). It is the function of defense intellectuals and other experts, and the mainstream media, to normalize the unthinkable for the general public. Arendt’s “banality of evil” lends an important dimension to the question of the racialized social control that we call mass incarceration.

What does personal liberation mean at a time when we can no longer differentiate between prisons and jails and the communities that serve as feeders for the prison-industrial complex? In fact, marginalized communities — mostly black and Latinx — are de facto open-air detention centers that differ from jails and prisons only in their degree of freedom of movement. Much of what transpires inside “the walls” of detention centers occur inside the walls of housing projects and surrounding ghettos, for example. Housing projects very much resemble prisons in the way they are designed and policed.

If a spiritual discipline — its ethical principles and cognitive practices — is to have any relevance, then they must address modern issues. Both sections will be informed by my personal experiences resulting from the choices I made while incarcerated at Rikers Island and NY State’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, please consider helping me out by sharing it, liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter, or even throwing me some money on GoFundMe HERE or via PayPal HERE so I can keep calling it like I see it.

The Legacy: Reflections on MLK Day

Hola Everybody,
Here in New York Martin Luther King’s legacy is celebrated partly with a day off work. My feeling is that the infotainment culture has managed to repackage Martin Luther King into a two-minute cliché that we dust off every year for his birthday. In that way, the power and meaning of his struggles and the struggles of those that walked by his side are lessened.

MLK’s message has been distorted, no doubt. So today, instead of rehashing the clichés, I will try to recount how this man’s work and message has affected my life. Take the following quote and substitute “Democrat” for “moderate” and you get an idea of where MLK would stand today:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
— Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., 16 April 1963, Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Living the Dream

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Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.”… And certainly we all want to live well-adjusted lives in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But I must say to you this evening, my friends, as I come to a close, that there are some things in my own nation, and there are some things in the world, to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon all men of goodwill to be maladjusted until the good society is realized. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation, discrimination, colonialism and these particular forces. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I must say to you tonight that I never intend to become adjusted to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., December 7, 1964

 

[Note: Names and certain details have been changed in order to respect confidentiality]

It’s not much, it’s a small patch — a lot — in the middle of a Brooklyn block. The lot is teeming with children on this hot NYC summer day and there are flowers, and a playground. There’s even a wooden stage and on some evenings, you can come to this lot and watch plays, or listen to music. Towards the back of the lot, there’s a patch devoted to growing vegetables, and Don Americo, an aged and gentle man tends to his “children,” this year’s crop of corn and tomatoes. There’s talk of building a casita, so that the people of the neighborhood can use the lot in the cold winter months.

To step into this little green oasis in the middle of the stark urban decay mioxed with the signs of encroaching gentrification, that surrounds it, is to be transformed. And I smile because it wasn’t always like this.

As I sit down on one of the benches, I reflect back to several years before when this lot was a rat-infested abandoned lot where crack addicts and sex workers took care of business under the cover of overgrown weeds. I never imagined it at the time that it could become something like this — a safe place for children and the people of the neighborhood.

Not even me…

Several years before, I took a job as an organizer for a national organization. The pay was miserable, the hours long, and it was a thankless job, but I took it because at the time, I hadn’t been able to work for almost two years. The collateral consequences of my past were serving as an obstacle to gainful employment. I had to quit graduate school and a committed relationship was coming to an end. It seemed as if everything I had worked for all these years was imploding. So I took this job as an organizer and they put me in the Brooklyn neighborhood I was raised — Bushwick.

Organizing is a very difficult job under any circumstances, but on top of trying to convince a largely disaffected population to get involved, I also had to convince them to pay me for the opportunity to do it. The organization I worked for ran on membership dues and collecting those dues was a large (too large!) part of my job. Now, I have a lot of experience in separating people from their money and in the beginning, I was getting members left and right. Then, one day, a woman gave me five of the last ten dollars she had because she believed in what I was saying. After that, I said fuck the membership dues.

By then, I had become disillusioned with the organization and with the people I was trying to organize. People didn’t care and nothing was being done. I came to Bushwick hoping to make a difference, but the neighborhood had changed tremendously since I had last set foot there and, well, shit wasn’t working.

One day as I walked by an empty lot I decided that I would concentrate on that. I really didn’t have a plan, but somehow that lot called to me. I began by knocking on every door on that block. My pitch was simple: I would ask people how they felt about the lot, what they would do with it if they had the power to change it, and then tell them that there was a group composed of their neighbors working to make such changes. Basic organizing 101 type-shit.

I knocked on every door on that block and I got, like, five people who were interested. One of them was a former girlfriend I had when I was in high school, who had become a teacher. Ibis was her name and she would become my champion. She was the true organizer, fast on her feet, full of energy, and aggressive. Three were church women who wanted to make their neighborhood safer. Lastly, there was Doña Maria, who would become my leader, my muscle. Doña Maria could browbeat anyone into submission. She was the Universal Mother, who knew everybody’s business, and she joined my group because she was watching me walk up and down the block, and demanded to know, “What the fuck” I was up to.

The abandoned lot was really Doña Maria’s idea. She took me the front of the lot and told me that if I really wanted to do something, do something about that fuckin’ lot. And that’s how it started. Ibis printed up flyers, started a database of members, and was in charge of recruiting. Doña Maria and her daughters made sure people on the block joined, and the church people convinced their pastors/ ministers/ priests to let me address their respective congregations. My personal story is pretty much a variation on a redemption song and I would use that as part of my orientation. Soon, my ragtag group of women had managed to create a stir on the block, people were getting interested, but the majority was still laying back, checking out to see if this was the real thing. There were also the drug dealers who “owned” one of the corners who watched me closely.

In my experience organizing is recognizing that at first people — strangers really — are a crowd. They are simply people thrown together by economic or political forces. A crowd can eventually become a group — an informal network of people somehow connected through these same circumstances. Eventually, that group can become a force once they get to know one another and learn of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

My crowd had become a group very quickly and was now evolving into a force to be reckoned with and I needed to help them realize their power. I noticed a street lamp wasn’t working, so I made that our first campaign. My group did the research, learned who to petition, and they got the streetlamp fixed. Now, maybe to you it doesn’t sound like a lot, but for my people, it was a big thing. They had effected change. They had tasted power and now were thirsty for more.

The next step was to get the city to clean the empty lot. This is where lives were changed. It was decided by the group that best course of action was that we hold a protest and during the protest, a police officer pushed one of the church ladies. Now this particular individual was as far removed from me, politically speaking, as could be. She probably was very conservative, socially speaking. But that officer unwittingly created my fiercest, most radical member by his action. She was outraged that she was treated that way. In being subjected to an injustice personally, she became aware of the systemic justice that could be seen everywhere in her community. She became my militant.

Slowly, one step at a time, that group was successful in taking over that empty lot and creating a community garden. Today that garden has the seal of the New York City Parks Department and it can never be taken away. That community garden transformed that block, driving away the drug dealers on the corner and the sex trade. Shortly after that, I was fired from my job for not collecting membership dues and by that time, the group had grown into over a 100 members and growing. Neighboring blocks saw what was happening on our block and had become interested. When I held a community meeting to tell them I could no longer work with them, they held a block party and collected funds, pooled all their money, and offered it to me.

Of course, I refused the money. I told them to use it for the community garden to plant something for me. Doña Maria, always the hard-ass, told me that she always knew I would leave them, and then she smiled as she took me in her arms. When I left, the group was strong and in reality, I wasn’t leading jack. They were leading and teaching me. It was time for me to move on anyway.

A year later, they created the most beautiful garden. I love that garden.

Did that garden change the world? Did Bushwick change? Did it make that much of a difference? I don’t know. I do know, the process changed lives. People saw themselves as agents with power. They were actors. They became the group that eventually took over an abandoned building and created affordable housing units. There weren’t the same people I first met.

One day I ran into Doña Maria, who had become an organizer herself and I asked her, “Why do all this if it isn’t going to make a difference?” Her answer is what drives me; it’s what gives my life meaning. She told me that it didn’t matter if you effected change. She told me she would fight even if she knew her struggle would be useless. When I asked her why, she told me we come from a people who fought. She said resistance is our legacy our heritage and she thanked me for reminding her of that. “I fight because the other choice is to let these motherfuckers fuck me. That’s why I fight, Eddie,” she told me.

I was reminded of her words as I sat in the community garden, the noise of children at play filling the air. And I knew she was right.

MLK was a controversial figure, especially so during the last year of his life. By then his house had been firebombed, he had been stabbed and assaulted with a brick, and younger people in the civil rights movement ridiculed his nonviolent stance. The right wing, who always hated MLK, and had by then, bugged his home and hotel rooms, and the established Democratic Party had even asked him to hold a moratorium on civil rights and to stop the marches because he was doing a disservice to his country.

These words, spoken toward the end of his life, still hold power for me:

There is nothing wrong with power if power is used correctly. You see, what happened is that some of our philosophers got off base. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites, polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love.
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, 1968

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, please consider helping me out by sharing it, liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter, or even throwing me some money on GoFundMe HERE or via PayPal HERE so I can keep calling it like I see it.

Sunday Sermon [Karma and Evolution]

Hola mi gente,
I continue to post at least once daily because it keeps me in the habit of writing. I’m the laziest “writer” evah. LOL

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Series of photos depicting stages of fetal development

 

When the historical Buddha asked us to examine our relationship to the elements as a path to the realization to the awareness that our body has no separate, independent existence, he was encouraging us to become scientists of the self. His instructions were based in part on one of his era’s principles known as the law of karma.

In Sanskrit, the word karma means “to do” or “to make,” and refers to the fact that every action is followed by consequences. As I have written before, in common modern usage karma has been corrupted to mean “payback” and has become synonymous with retribution. This is a faulty and misinformed concept of karma.

The Hindu law of karma, which was current when the Buddha lived, was concerned mostly with an individual’s actions in the world, and how the consequences of those actions would affect that person’s destiny, even in future lives. For example, if one person hurts another, that sets up whole series of events that ends in the transgressor experiencing pain. People today like to say, “Everything that goes around, comes around.”

The Buddha added a completely new dimension to this law by emphasizing that karma is also a psychological conditioning process that operates in this very life. He recognized that our thoughts as well as our actions have consequences and that those consequences take place in our own mind.

The Buddha advised us not to try to tease out all the specifics of the entanglement of our karma, saying it was one of the imponderables. We could never isolate or measure all of the events and processes that have produced this particular here and now. What he taught instead was to see the fact that nothing arises independent of causes and conditions. Equally important is that we become aware how unwholesome states such as hatred and greed create suffering. What happens when we evolve in this way is that we begin to see ourselves and each moment as embedded within all of creation.

Karma has nothing to do with other people getting their “payback.”

All of this got me thinking and I came upon a series of photographs of the development of the human fetus. I was taken immediately at how it seems as if fetal development is a reflection of our evolutionary history.1

Looking at these photos, I came away thinking that the scientific story of evolution can offer a new angle on the notion of karma and reincarnation. Life itself seems to reincarnate in form after form, with new forms of locomotion, perception, or types of consciousness constantly emerging. In fact, the human condition can be seen as our shared incarnation, part of common “evolutionary karma.”

Evolutionary science is even showing us some of the faces of our previous shared past. You can see, twitching away on a Petri dish, a living example of past life as a single-celled organism. In a water-breathing fish, you can imagine a version of yourself in a previous life, swimming through the single ocean that once covered the earth. You can perhaps more easily recognize yourself as a great ape, or as a Homo Habilis in the Stone Age.

But what struck me was that our shared lives could be even more easily recognized by looking at fetal development in the womb. Think about it: within a nine-month period we develop from a single cell organism to a complex mammal, keeping the adaptations we might need and discarding those that are unnecessary, such as gills, and downsizing others, such as the acute olfactory region of the brain, since smell is no longer as essential to our survival as humans.

In their book, What Is Life?, Dorion Sagan and Lynn Margulis, put forward the depth of our inheritance: “We share more than 98 percent of our genes with chimpanzees, sweat fluids reminiscent of seawater, and crave sugar that provided our ancestors with energy three billion years before the first space station had evolved. We carry our past with us.”

The notion that we have embedded within us previous lives of our evolutionary past can extend beyond biology, into the realm of elemental forces and cycles. After all, the entire earth was once a cloud of gas, and later cooling into a molten mass. Were we not part of those too? The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in The Heart of Understanding, “As I look more deeply, I can see that in a former life I was a cloud. And I was a rock. This is not poetry; it is science. This is not a question of a belief in reincarnation. This is the history of life on earth.”

The concept of life evolving is not foreign to Buddhism, whether it is told in legends of reincarnation, or understood as the interconnection of all things in the universe. And perhaps most importantly it is expressed through the core belief in the possibility of transformation in this very life.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

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