Ambient: Solidarity

According to Wikipedia, ambient music is “a genre of music that puts an emphasis on tone and atmosphere over traditional musical structure or rhythm.”  I think that sums it up.  My introduction to ambient music was via Brian Eno, the musican who got his start with Roxy Music.  Another influence was Tangerine Dream.

Eno says, “When I started working on ambient music, my idea was to make music that was more like painting.”  When you have the bucks to hire accomplished musicians and a nice recording studio, you can afford to be abstract about it. I have a keyboard, a couple of cheap Shure mics, a laptop and a program called Mixcraft (like Garage Band but for PC).  My idea is just to produce something that sounds half decent.

Today’s selection is taken from one of my earlier pieces, done in the aforementioned more “traditional musical structure.”  I had planned to call this version “Tomorrow’s Castles Are Only Sleeping About”.  If you listen closely and know your prog rock history, you can figure that one out.

Then I thought to call it simply “Track 9.”

But after yesterday, I decided on Solidarity.


Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail

It is a real shame that Hunter S. Thompson is not around anymore. He would have loved the 2016 Presidential campaign. It is weird enough even for him.

If you do not know who Hunter S. Thompson was, you can read his Wikipedia biography, although simply reading the opening paragraph of his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas will give you a general idea of what he was about:

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive…” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”

Hunter-S-ThompsonIn 1971, Rolling Stone magazine sent Thompson out to cover the 1972 Presidential campaign. The result was a series of articles that he collected in the book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. Some critics have hailed it as a masterpiece of American journalism. When it was published in 1973, the New York Times review said “‘Fear and Loathing’ lets us understand why the men we elect to the Presidency may have needle tracks on their integrity.”

Nothing much has changed in 44 years. The needle marks are still there and some of the folks running this time are more terrifying than the bats swooping down on Thompson’s car.

Hunter S. Thompson practiced what he called “gonzo journalism.” He did not mince his words.  He did not strive for objectivity and he didn’t believe in ‘off the record.’  He was off the wall. I don’t have the book anymore but I did find some quotes at, including this one:

fearandloathing-campaignSome of the scenes in this twisted saga will not make much sense to anybody except the people who were involved in them. Politics has its own language, which is often so complex that it borders on being a code, and the main trick in political journalism is learning how to translate – to make sense of the partisan bullshit that even your friends will lay on you – without crippling your access to the kind of information that allows you to keep functioning.”

I don’t know if politics really has a code, I think it is mostly bullshit. One piece of BS that I am really tired of hearing, and Ted Cruise is one of the worst offenders, is the idea that Obama has weakened the military. Total crap. The truth is that U.S. military spending is at a historic high and far above what Reagan spent.

I suppose there are political journalists with clean arms integrity-wise, but I don’t know who they are. In recent years, I have gotten my political news from CNN and MSNBC (once in a while for a good laugh, I will watch Fox), but these outlets are more about generating revenue than genuine reporting. And they contributed to the rise of Donald Tramp.

For months now whenever I turn on one of the channels, there he is, with that thing on his head and orange skin, saying something outrageous and disgusting. In America, and probably elsewhere, outrageous and disgusting sells advertising time. If the cable news networks had had any integrity, they would have ignored Tramp. This crude and immature con-man does not stand alone as being responsible for inciting violence and hatred. All he wants is attention and he will do anything to get it. If we had ignored him, he would have gone away. It’s too late now.

But you don’t care about my take on politics. I don’t care much for it myself. Too cynical. Plus, I have no insights or great political acumen. The only thing I know is that just twice in my life were there presidential candidates I truly supported; one was assassinated, and the other is currently the Governor of California, which at least is something.

When it comes to politics, I mostly know what I fear and loath . . . you know, politicians . . . So, I leave the final words to Dr. Thompson:

When the going gets weird, the weird turn professional.”

steadmanArtwork by long time Thompson collaborator, Ralph Steadman.



Throwback Thursday: Untangling the Tangle

Re-post of an entry from March 2013:

A while back I highlighted some of the keywords, search terms and queries that cause people to stumble upon The Endless Further. I know that most of those folks probably found what they were looking for, either here or elsewhere, but it’s interesting to discuss them anyway. Here’s another one:

“what does it mean to untangle the tangle buddhaghosa”

“Untangle the tangle” is a well-known phrase found in the the Jata Sutta (“Samyutta Nikaya”, Chapter 7, Sutta 6). Buddhaghosa was the Indian Buddhist scholar who stands out as the pre-eminent commentator on Theravada understanding. His Visuddhimagga, or Path of Purification, believed written in Ceylon in the beginning of the fifth century CE, is a comprehensive study of Buddhist doctrine and meditation technique. In his introduction to this work, Buddhaghosa quotes, and then comments on the Jata Sutta passage:

The sutta tells how a Brahman named Jata (“Tangle”) Bharadvaja visiting the Buddha at Savatthi posed  this question :

‘Tangle within, tangle without,
Sentient things are entangled in a tangle.
And I would ask of you, Gotama, this:
Who can untangle this tangle?’

Buddhaghosa comments:

By ‘tangle” is meant the net of craving. For craving is like the tangle of the network of branches of bamboo-bushes and the like, in the sense of an intertwining, because it arises again and again, repeatedly in connection with such objects as visible things. And it is said to be a ‘tangle within and a tangle without,’ because it arises as craving for one’s own needs and others’, for one’s own person and others’, and for consciousness subjective and objective. Sentient beings are entangled in such a tangle. Just as bamboos and the like are entangled by such tangles as bamboo-bushes, so all living beings, are entangled, enmeshed, embroiled, in that tangle of craving, this is the meaning.

And because of such entanglement, the meaning of, ‘I would ask of you, Gotama, this,’ is to be understood in this way: So I ask you, addressing the Awakened One by his family name, Gotama, ‘Who can untangle this tangle?’ means: Who is able to untangle this tangle which has entangled existence?”

Tangled up, in blue.
Tangled up, in blue.

Naturally, we are the only ones who can untangle the tangle, for the entanglement is our own doing. It is no good looking outside of ourselves for the solutions to problems created within. From the Buddhist perspective, relying on external beings or forces will provide only temporary solutions. Lasting change must come from our own inner being.

When questioned in this way, the Awakened One, walking in unobstructed knowledge of all things, confident with the Four Confidences, bearer of the Tenfold Strength, possessor of unimpeded knowledge and the all-seeing eye, spoke this stanza in answer:

‘When a wise person, established well in virtue,
Develops consciousness and understanding,
Then as a seeker with concentration  and insight,
That person may untangle this tangle.’

Buddhaghosa defines virtue as the life condition of a person who refrains from killing living things, lying, stealing, etc; virtue is ethics. It has long been held in the West that ethics or moral behavior is only possible through belief in a supreme being. Without belief and without fear of the creator, humans would be free to make up their own moral standards and it would be a case of “anything goes”.

I feel that Buddhist ethics is different.  As I see it, Buddhist ethics are based on four core principles: hri, apatrapa, prajna and karuna.

Hri is “self-respect” or “conscientiousness,” although it can be translated as a “sense of shame.” Apatrappa can also mean “shame”, as well as “decorum” or “consideration”. Put together they mean that a person should avoid committing unwholesome acts out of respect for one’s own being (striving to keep the mind pure) and out of consideration for others.

Prajna is wisdom, having a clear understanding of what harm oneself, and karuna, compassion, is recognition of what harms others.

The goal of Buddhist ethics is supply guidelines for what should or should not be done to insure the highest good and avoidance of evil. This, is what Buddhaghose means by “pure.” Actually, he gives “purification” a threefold meaning. One is the purity of virtue. Secondly, refining the mind, having thoughts free of discrimination, cultivating a non-dual mind that sees all things equally without prejudice. And thirdly, Buddhaghosa equates purity with nibbana (nirvana), “which is free from all stains and is exceedingly pure.” In this sense, we can say that ethics and nirvana are identical.


Nagarjuna’s Golden Bowl

There was a Tibetan guru, an alchemist and tantric master, named Nagarjuna who lived during the 7th century, and who has been confused with Nagarjuna (c. 150–250 CE) the “second Buddha” and founder of the Madhyamaka (Middle Way) philosophy.  The legends surrounding both are numerous.

Nagarjuna-2016-1In one story, the Tibetan Nagarjuna, who was also a metallurgist, turned an iron begging bowl into gold. One day, as he was taking a meal, Nagarjuna saw a thief passing by his open door. The thief noticed the golden bowl and wanted to steal it.

Nagarjuna saw into the thief’s heart, and to save time, he went outside and gave his golden bowl to the man, encouraging him to go ahead and take it.

The next day, the thief returned and handed the bowl to Nagarjuna, saying, “Great teacher! When you gave away this bowl so freely, I felt very poor and desolate. Show me the way to acquire the wealth that makes this kind of untroubled detachment possible.”

The story is about the importance of non-attachment, emphasizing that to let go of attachments to material things is to realize a state of wealth and abundance.

A key element in cultivating non-attachment is renunciation, a word that to me always seems to convey sacrifice. The Dalai Lama says, “True renunciation is a state of mind. It does not necessarily mean that someone has to give up something.”

In his version of the Tao Te Ching, the late Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawaii, Chung-yuan Chang translated chapter 59 this way:

In guiding people and working according to nature,
It is best to follow renunciation.
Following renunciation means returning soon.
Returning soon means accumulating attainment.

Chang comments that “The key word in this chapter is se, or renunciation, which means returning soon to one’s original nature . . . Thus [Te-Ching’s commentary says]: What Lao Tzu means ‘in guiding people and working according to nature, it is best to follow renunciation,’ is that nothing is better than the cultivation of returning to one’s original nature.”

When I did an internet search for se, I found it defined as “stingy, mean.” But as the story of Nagarjuna’s golden bowl allegorizes, the state of mind of non-attachment includes generosity of spirit.

Atisha, in Kadamthorbu, Precepts collected from Here and There, is quoted as saying,

The greatest generosity is non-attachment.”

And in Nagarjuna’s Guidelines for Social Action [found in Engaged Buddhist Reader], Robert Thurman writes, 

Those who . . . simply consume and hoard, soon lose their wealth, just as Nagarjuna states. It is a fact of economics that the basis of wealth is generosity.”