Google Reader: Another One Bites the Dust

If you are used to getting The Endless Further, other blogs, and news sources from Google Reader, today will be the last time, for tomorrow the service will be history.

Google is shutting down the content application and platform it created in 2005, citing a decline a decline of RSS due to Twitter, and other sites delivering news. It seems to me that quite a few people are still using it. The number one way subscribers access this blog is through Google Feedfetcher, which distributes RSS or Atom feeds to users of Google Reader and iGoogle, although I am not sure how many subscribers there are to one over the other.

According to Forbes, killing off Google Reader “can be seen as the best thing to happen to RSS,” because:

[What] had once been a choke point for RSS consumption has once again broken apart with no less than 5 different companies (Feedly, Newsblur, AOL reader, Feedbin, Bazqux) providing and API for end client to synchronize with. This means that it is unlikely that a single company will have the same kind of stranglehold Google once had over RSS.”

So, while Google Reader may die tomorrow, that doesn’t mean that newsreaders are dead. Here are links to some alternatives:

Feedly, Digg Reader, Newsblur, AOL Reader, BazQux, Feedbin, Feeder, FeedReader, FeedWrangler, G2Reader, InoReaderRidly and The Older Reader.

Many of theses are free, however Newsblur is $24/Year, BazQux $9-29/Year, Feebin $24/year, Feeder $10/Year, and Feed Wrangler is $19/Year.

Personally, I dig Digg, but that’s because I’ve been using it for a while and am used to it. Good luck, all.


True Happiness Pt. Two

Monday I shared some thoughts on the subject of true happiness by Chuang Tzu. According to this Chinese sage, happiness was found in wu-wei or “not doing.” Chuang Tzu said, “I consider doing nothing to obtain happiness to be true happiness.”

19th Century Tibetan Tangka of Shantideva
19th Century Tibetan Tangka of Shantideva

For Shantideva, the 8th century Indian Buddhist philosopher, there was no greater happiness than generating bodhicitta, the thought of awakening. Bodhicitta, the aspirational wish to relieve the sufferings of all beings, is considered the first and leading step toward awakening or Buddhahood.

In the first chapter of the “Bodhicaryavatara” (“A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life”), in which Shantideva describes the benefits of bodhicitta, he writes, “The jewel that is this thought is the true cause of happiness for all wandering beings.”

The selection below was included in a Mahayana liturgy based on Shantideva’s book. In the Wallace annotated translation this section has three headings: meditating on the happiness of fulfilling one’s own wishes, meditating on the happiness of benefiting others and fulfilling their wishes, and exhorting others to meditate on happiness.

This selection is roughly the last nine or ten verses (depending on the version) of Chapter Three. This version is my own, based on various translations.

Embracing the Thought of Awakening

After generating the thought of awakening, a person with a sincere and seeking mind will strengthen the aspiration with such thoughts as these:

Today my life is fruitful, my human existence a blessing. This day I joined the family of the Awakened, and now am I their heir.

In every way, now, I should undertake the tasks of my family, and never stain this pure lineage.

Like a blind man who has found a gem in a pile of rubbish, somehow this thought of awakening has arisen within me.

It is an elixir made to alleviate death in the world, an inexhaustible treasure to relieve the world’s poverty, a supreme balm to heal the world’s sickness.

It is a tree under which all living beings who wander over life’s paths may rest; the universal bridge open to all wayfarers.

It is the rising moon of the mind that soothes the afflictions of the mind; the great sun dispelling the darkness of ignorance. It is the fresh butter churned from the milk of dharma.

For the caravan of beings traveling the road of life hungering for the taste of happiness, this is the feast of true happiness that provides sustenance to all.

Today, I summon the world to the state of awakening, and enter into the true meaning of happiness, and may this cause all celestial beings, titans, and others to rejoice.


The Dharma of Civil Disobedience

Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, and others have described his act of revealing facts about sweeping U.S. Government surveillance programs as “civil disobedience.” Whether you consider Snowden a hero or a traitor, one thing you cannot say about him is that he is a civil disobedient, at least not the traditional definition of that term.

Merriam-Webster defines civil disobedience as the “refusal to obey government demands or commands and nonresistance to consequent arrest and punishment.” While whistle-blowing doesn’t strictly fit the definition, it is the last part that I think is significant: “nonresistance to consequent arrest and punishment.” That means you don’t go on the lam.

Not that I blame Snowden. I wouldn’t want to be arrested and tried as a traitor either. And yet, the willingness to be arrested, is exactly what makes civil disobedience so powerful.

I’m afraid that Snowden has diluted his own act of protest. As David Corn said on MSNBC’s Hardball Monday,

He said I want to start a debate. I wanted to get people thinking about this in the public and on Capitol Hill, but yet because of all the drama in the last few days of his flight and the human interest story he’s created himself now . . . He has now made the story more about him than about these great issues . . .”

The greatest proponent of civil disobedience in modern times was Mahatma Gandhi, whose Satyagraha or “truth force” movement, employed during the Indian struggle for independence, helped inspire the freedom movements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the U.S. and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

Vinit Haksar, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and an Honorary Fellow, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh, in his paper “The Right to Civil Disobedience,”* notes that “Gandhi . . . thought that civil disobedients succeed by courting punishment, not by avoiding it.” He also states that “The ordinary criminal tries to run away from punishment, while the civil disobedient breaks the law in an open and civil way. The latter co-operates with the authorities both at the stage of committing the crime and in jail.” Cooperating with authorities before or during the commission of act of civil disobedience may not always be the case, but in general the civil disobedient does cooperate with the punishment. After all, it is not only an act of protect, but also one of sacrifice.

Haksar reminds us,

Total toleration of civil disobedience in general would lead to its death as it would mean that civil disobedients would not be able to demonstrate their sincerity through their willingness to undergo punishment.”

It is perhaps a small point, a bit of nit-picking, but as the discussion of  Snowden’s leak, his flight, and his motives continue in the weeks to come, it seems like an important point to keep in mind.

An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

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* Osgoode Hall Law, 2003


True Happiness Pt. 1

I’ve shared some the writings of Chuang Tzu (369—298 BCE) before. He was an early and influential Taoist philosophers. Also known as Zhuang Zhou or Zhuangzi, he worked as a minor official for a small town in China during the late 4th century BCE,  and a follower of the philosophy of the Tao, which teaches the principle of wu-wei, “not-doing.”

His basic writings are known simply as “Chuang Tzu,” and here is the beginning of Chapter 18 Kih Lo or “True Happiness” based on the translations by James Legge and Burton Watson.

Chuang Tzu

Is there such a thing as true happiness to be found in the world or isn’t there? Is there some way to preserve your life or isn’t there? If so, what should you do, what should you rely on, avoid, stick by, follow, leave alone? In other words, what should you find happiness in, what should you hate?

The world honors wealth, fame, longevity, a good name. The world finds happiness in a life of ease, good food, fine clothes, beautiful sights, pleasant music. It looks down on poverty, meanness, early death, a bad name. It finds bitter a life that knows no rest, a mouth hungry for good food, a body with no fine clothes, eyes that see no beautiful sights, ears that hear no sweet music. If people do not get these things they fret a great deal and are troubled with fears – isn’t it silly?

Now, those who are rich wear themselves out rushing around on business, piling up more wealth than they could ever use – so concerned with external things. Famous people spend night and day worrying if they are skillful – indifferent to more important things. Birth is the beginning of a person’s suffering, and when there is longevity, people just become sillier, spending more time with worry than with living – what a great bitterness.

People of passion are regarded by the world as good, but neither their passion nor their goodness can keep them alive. I wonder if the goodness ascribed to them is really good or not. Perhaps it’s good – but not good enough to save their lives. Perhaps it’s no good – but still good enough to save the lives of others. Hence, it is said, if good advice isn’t listened to, sit still, give way, and do not wrangle. Tzu-hsu wrangled and destroyed his body. But if he hadn’t wrangled, he would not have acquired his fame. Was this goodness really goodness or was it not?

As to what ordinary people find happiness in – I don’t know whether this is really happiness or not. I see them in their pursuit of it, racing around as though they cannot stop – they will say they’re happy, or they’re not happy . . . In the end is there really happiness or isn’t there?

I consider doing nothing to obtain happiness to be true happiness, but ordinary people do not understand this. It’s said that true happiness is to be without happiness, the highest praise is to be without praise. The world can’t make up its mind what is right and what is wrong. And yet doing nothing can determine it. Since supreme happiness is found in keeping the body alive, only by doing nothing can you accomplish it!

Let me try putting it this way. Space does nothing, and thence comes its serenity; Earth does nothing, and thence comes its peace. Through the union of these two inactions all things are transformed and brought to life. Wonderful, mysterious, they seem to come from nowhere! Wonderful, mysterious, they have no visible sign!  Each thing minds its business and grows from this inaction. So I say, space and earth do nothing and there is nothing that is not done. But who among us can attain this inaction?


Mindfulness and Growing to Simplicity

We talk about “being in the moment,” the present moment. We call it “mindfulness” What exactly does that mean? Thich Nhat Hahn says,

[Mindfulness means] to be truly present in the moment. When you eat, you know that you are eating. When you walk, you know that you are walking. The opposite of mindfulness is forgetfulness. You eat but you don’t know that you are eating, because your mind is elsewhere.”*

The real mindfulness we’re trying to realize is the mindfulness of daily life, mindfulness while engaged in daily activities. It is the product, the fruit of the mindfulness that we cultivate through meditation practice.

Mindfulness meditation is not about forgetfulness, either. Rather, it’s narrowing our awareness to our breath or some other subject of meditation for a certain period of time. In Chih-kuan for Beginners, T’ien-t’ai master Chih-i wrote, “During meditation, beginners find that not even a single thought arising in the mind will stay for an instant.” We use the breath as a tool to stop the mind from wandering and control the discursive thoughts that prevent us from being truly present in the moment.

Awareness of our breath or being present in the breath develops a deeper, more enduring awareness that we should be able to take with us when we get up from the meditation mat.

SCZCA FaceBook friend put the poster you see to the right on his timeline. It’s from the Santa Cruz Zen Center. I really like this attitude. To chase after attainments, exalted states of mind, stages of accomplishment such as arhatship, even Buddhahood, has always seemed counter-productive to me. It causes people to seize on these objectives and cling to them, when non-seizing, non-clinging is what frees our mind.

I would call the Santa Cruz Zen Center’s approach a wu-wei approach. Wu-wei, or “not-doing,” that I have written about often, is the way of letting things happen naturally. The Buddha said that when mindfulness flows like a steady stream, then mindfulness as a cause for awakening becomes aroused. It happens naturally. There’s no reason to run after it.

Of course, aiming to sit in meditation without any ideas is having a idea, a objective. It is impossible to be without ideas or aims of any kind. However, just as we can narrow our awareness to the breath, we can also narrow our objectives.

But can this approach also be an opportunity for seizing and clinging?

Chih-i also wrote, “You should know that whoever clings to the wu-wei state will never develop the awakening mind, which is free from differentiation.”

Well, whoever clings to anything, period. It’s a bitter irony that we can never be completely free from the trap of conceptual thinking, nor realize total non-attachment. And yet, that’s no reason why we can’t really be present in the moment, the only moment we have, or follow the way of wu-wei, the art of keeping it simple.

From innumerable complexities we must grow to simplicity . . .”
– Jiddu Krishnamurti

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* Thich Nhat Hanh, be free where you are, Parallax Press, 2002