Interdependence Day

Tom Tancredo, outspoken former GOP congressman from Colorado, writes on Breitbart News, “Why do we continue to celebrate Independence Day each July Fourth when we no longer cherish independence?  Someday soon, our progressive politicians will propose celebrating the first Monday in July as Global Interdependence Day, and no one will protest as long as it includes barbecues and fireworks.”

The rest of the piece is the standard conservative complaint about the loss of cherished traditional values, the “abandonment of America’s unique character “ and so on, punctuated with lines like “Multiculturalism is not an idea to be debated, it’s the new orthodoxy to be obeyed. Or else!”

Multiculturalism is the coexistence of different cultures.  Not sure why that needs debate.

statue_of_liberty_03bAnyway, you probably don’t need me to tell you that that the views of people like Tancredo, and Trump, the Brexit backers in the UK, and others are largely irrational and based on a simplistic us vs. them mentality.  Furthermore, if you want to talk about cherished values, the idea of closed borders seems completely antithetical to one of the values that most typifies America, the spirit of openness. It’s the spirit behind the words in the “The New Colossus” sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

I’ve read a number of articles recently that suggest xenophobia and nationalism are on the rise once again in Europe.  It is firmly entrenched here in the US.  I’m sure you also recognize that Trump is not offering the country anything new, it’s just different.  The right wing has been spouting this same gospel for decades.  What is unique about Trump is that somehow he has managed to make being offensive appealing to a great many potential voters.

About Europe, French journalist Jean Quatremer wonders, “How long can the EU, a project born out of the ruins of the post-war period, resist the wave of xenophobia and paranoia that is sweeping across our old and exhausted societies? Instead of going against the current of public opinion built on fear, European leaders on the right and the left have found no better strategy than to follow the extremist parties, as can be seen in France. Nothing seems capable of stopping this return to nationalism, the very thing that is pulling Europe towards the abyss.”

The same thing applies here, where you have people who can’t stand Trump, stand with him because they don’t know what else to do.

What people think about their country is one thing, the terms in which they think about it is another.  We can say the same about patriotism and nationalism.  The former can be a healthy emotion, but to my mind, the latter is almost always destructive.  When the difference between patriotism and nationalism is blurred and religion is thrown in, the mix is extremely volatile.

I don’t see globalization, multiculturalism, and diversity as things to fear.  I think a Global Interdependence Day is a good idea.  Maybe not on July 4th but some other day.  Interdependence should be celebrated.  Interdependence is reality. We should embrace reality.

Thus interdependence is a fundamental law of nature. Not only higher forms of life but also many of the smallest insects are social beings who, without any religion, law, or education, survive by mutual cooperation based on an innate recognition of their interconnectedness. The most subtle level of material phenomena is also governed by interdependence. All phenomena, from the planet we inhabit to the oceans, clouds, forests, and flowers that surround us, arise in dependence upon subtle patterns of energy. Without their proper interaction, they dissolve and decay.”

Tenzin Gyatsu, the Fourteen Dalai Lama, “The Compassionate Life”

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Emma_Lazarus“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


Sartre and Nagarjuna, Being and Emptiness

The impact of Buddhism on Western philosophy is still a relatively new field of study. J. Jeffrey Franklin of the University of Colorado in “Buddhism and Modern Existential Nihilism: Jean-Paul Sartre Meets Nagarjuna” * delves into the subject.  According to the abstract, Franklin’s essay contends “that modernist nihilism owes a largely unexamined historical debt to the nineteenth-century ‘discovery’ of Buddhism. It demonstrates that Jean-Paul Sartre’s nihilism was influenced by a debate that occurred as part of the Western struggle to assimilate Buddhism: the nineteenth-century nirvana debate.”

I bring this up because Jean-Paul Sartre was a key figure in Western philosophy of the 20th century, a founder of French Existentialism, and today is the 111th anniversary of his birth.  Sartre died in 1980.

He was also a novelist and playwright.  During the early part of World War II, Sartre was imprisoned by the Germans, escaped and joined the resistance movement.

How deeply Buddhism may have influenced Sartre, I don’t know. And I can’t get access to Franklin’s paper. However, I am aware that Sartre’s ‘nothingness’ is comparable to the Buddhist concept of sunyata (emptiness) in some respects, but we should not carry this comparability too far.

Hazel Barnes in the 1943 English translation of Being and Nothingness writes,

sartre2If an object is to be posited as absent or not existing, then there must be involved the ability to constitute an emptiness or nothingness with respect to it.  Sartre goes further than this and says that in every act of imagination there is really a double nihilation.  In this connection he makes  an important distinction between being-in-the world and being-in-the-midst-of-the-world. To be in-the-midst-of-the world is to be one with the world as in the case of objects.  But consciousness is not in-the-midst-of-the-world; it is in-the-world.  This means that consciousness is inevitably involved with the world (both because we have bodies and because by definition consciousness is consciousness of a transcendent object) but that there is a separation between consciousness and the things in the world.”

This comes close to emptiness and interdependence but doesn’t go all the way.  It seems dualistic to me.  For Nagarjuna, emptiness demolished all notions of separation and distinction, even though he recognized it was not possible to avoid using such terms.   An article on Buddhanet says, “All phenomena have a relative as opposed to an absolute existence . . . Nagarjuna used the dialectic method to ruthlessly negate all pairs of opposites.”  This is correct but I don’t understand how the article can go on to say that “Sunyata is the absolute reality.”

Emptiness is not a truth so much as it is a condition or state of existence.  We can say it is an aspect of reality, but even that is problematic.  Previously, I have quoted the famous verse from Chapter 24 of Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Verses on The Middle Way, “Whatever arises through interdependency is emptiness. However, this is a conventional designation. It is the meaning of the Middle Way.” These words summarize Nagarjuna’s whole philosophy as he identifies the non-duality of the relative and absolute or ultimate truth.  But the next verse in the chapter is equally important:

Whatever does arise through interdependency does not exist.  Therefore, something that is not empty does not exist.”

In his commentary on the verse, Buddhist scholar Jay Garfield** says,

Nagarjuna is asserting that the dependently arisin is emptiness.  Emptiness and the phenomenal world are not two distinct things.  They are, rather, two characterizations of the same things.  To say of something that it is dependently co-arisen is to say that it is empty.  To say of something that it is empty is another way of say that it arises dependently.”

The way I see it is that absolute reality is the absence of an absolute reality.  The ultimate truth is that there is no ultimate truth.  And emptiness is relative, which, as I have also mentioned before, Nagarjuna expressed as sunyata-sunyata or the emptiness of emptiness.

Anyway, it’s Sartre’s birthday.  Thought I would pass that along.

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* Franklin, J.J.: “Buddhism and Modern Existential Nihilism: Jean-Paul Sartre Meets Nagarjuna.” Religion and Literature

** Arya Nagarjuna. The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way,, Translation and Commentary, Jay Garfield, 1995

Being and Nothingness, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hazel Estella Barnes, Simon and Schuster, 1992


Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?

Small-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-LogoThese lyrics to a 1949 song by Woodrow Buddy Johnson, are offered to commemorate National Poetry Month, the opening of the 2016 baseball season, and this day 69 years ago when Jackie Robinson became the first black player in major-league history by playing in an exhibition game for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field.

Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
It went zoomin cross the left field wall.
Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.

And when he swung his bat,
the crowd went wild,
because he knocked that ball a solid mile.
Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.

Satchel Paige is mellow,
so is Campanella,
Newcombe and Doby, too.
But it’s a natural fact,
when Jackie comes to bat,
the other team is through.

Jackie-Robinson_Stealing Home2bDid you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
Did he hit it? Yeah, and that ain’t all.
He stole home.
Yes, yes, Jackie’s real gone.
Jackie’s is a real gone guy.


Most of you know about Jackie Robinson, but you may not be familiar with Buddy Johnson, an African-American blues and jazz pianist, bandleader and songwriter.  His biggest hit as a tunesmith was Since I Fell for You, a standard recorded by many artists over the years, my favorite being Lenny Welsh’s 1963 hit.

Now, the best known recording of Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball? is no doubt the one by Count Basie, done at the Victor studios in New York City on July 13, 1949, with “Taps” Miller as vocalist.  According to the Library of Congress, this version “has become synonymous with the song itself.”


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.


Johnny Cash, Bitter Tears and Human Rights

First off, in my un-humble opinion, Johnny Cash was one of the most important and authentic of American artists. He’s up there with such folk, country and blues legends as Leadbelly, Jimmie Rogers, Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie, Bessie Smith and Hank Williams. Last night, I watched a documentary, Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears, based on the book A Heartbeat and a Guitar: Johnny Cash and the Making of Bitter Tears by Antonino D’Ambrosio, and learned more about Johnny Cash and about two albums I had not heard of before.

bittertearsThe first is Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian, a concept album Johnny recorded in 1964 about the plight of Native Americans. Johnny wrote two of the songs, co-wrote another with Johnny Horton (Battle of New Orleans fame) but most of the tracks were written by folksinger Peter La Farge.

It is tempting to think of Johnny Cash as just a country music artist who used to hang out with cool people like Bob Dylan, but he was much more – a true original, an innovator and trailblazer. It’s also tempting to think that the concept album was an invention of the rock era, pioneered by the Beach Boys (Pet Sounds), The Beatles (Sgt. Pepper), The Who (The Who Sell Out) and others. However, when Bitter Tears was released in 1964, Johnny had already recorded two concept albums: Ride This Train (1960) and Blood Sweat and Tears (1963). Perhaps the only artist to beat him to the punch in the area of concept albums was Frank Sinatra.

The reaction to Bitter Tears back then was so hostile, and Johnny was so disappointed by the criticism he received, that he took out a full page ‘ad’ in Billboard magazine where he did not mince any of his words to music industry execs, critics, and DJ’s:

This ad, go ahead and call it that, cost like hell. Would you or those pulling the strings for you, go to the mic with the new approach? That is, listen again to the record? Yes, I cut records to try for sales. Another word we could use is success. Regardless of the trade charts, the categorizing, classifying, and the restrictions of airplay, this is not a country song, not as it is being sold. It is a fine reason, though, for the gutless to give it thumbs down.”

The second album I learned about is a 2014 re-recording, Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited, featuring Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Milk Carton Kids, and Kris Kristofferson, among others.

Like Joe Henry, the producer of the tribute LP, I was familiar with Johnny Cash’s song The Ballad of Ira Hayes, that tells the story of Ira Hamilton Hayes, a Pima Indian and a United States Marine who was one of the six soldiers captured in the famous photograph of the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima during World War II. Ira Hayes died of drunk and suffering from acute alcoholism in a field on the Pima reservation on a cold January night in 1955. However, I was only vaguely aware of the 1964 concept album and knew nothing of the story behind it.

In the documentary, Joe Henry says,

At that moment, in 1964, the Civil Rights act had just been signed, and he [Cash] didn’t understand why people didn’t equate what was happening with Native Americans with what was happening in this country to African Americans. His point of view was that this is the same issue. This is human rights.”

Wednesday, Amnesty International released their annual State of the World report for 2014/2015 in which they state that International protection of human rights is in danger of unravelling as short-term national self-interest and draconian security crackdowns have led to a wholesale assault on basic freedoms and rights.

Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, adds

Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world. Millions of people are suffering enormously at the hands of states and armed groups, while governments are shamelessly painting the protection of human rights as a threat to security, law and order or national ‘values.'”

Our challenge globally and locally is to protect human rights in the future and to heal from the abuses of the past.  I don’t know if Johnny Cash thought of it in terms of ‘healing,’ but that was probably his general idea.

Sometimes his recordings are so spare in style and instrumentation that the only thing you have to hold on to his magnificent voice and the words. I don’t think Johnny is remembered as an especially gifted songwriter, but he wrote what I feel is one of the most simple and beautiful songs of all time, I Still Miss Someone, and read these lyrics from his Apache Tears:

The victor and the loser came by here
No head stones, but these bones bring the mascalero death moans
See the smooth black nuggets by the thousands lying here
Petrified, but justified are these apache tears

In Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears, currently showing on PBS stations, Native American singer and composer, sums it all up very well:

How do we actually deal with our situations right now . . . How do we heal that? How do we say, okay, let’s become whole again? And that’s what makes this land sacred . . . How do we change the hearts and minds and souls of those who are going to come after us? It begins with the thought.”

A Johnny Cash poster I made a few years ago: