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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Dalai Lama visits Madison

His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking at the Kohl Center, University of Wisconsin, May 4, 2007The Dalai Lama visited Madison this week. He has been here several times, because he asked one of his former teachers, Geshe Lhundub Sopa, to establish a monastery nearby. It began in 1975. The monastery's new temple has been completed, and is ready for the Dalai Lama's inspection and blessing. The last time he was here, in 1998, I went to the three days of teachings he gave. This year I kept procrastinating, and ended up attending only the last day of teachings, yesterday.

I got what I needed. The talk he gave was about generating the awakened mind, part of a longer discourse on ancient Buddhist writings. Some of the gems of wisdom I wrote down were the following: "Adversities become conditioning for creating a basis for true happiness," "Embrace the wisdom of no self," "(In) Self-embracing, self-cherishing, we repeat the cycle of suffering," "One should ride the horse of awakening mind - Bodhichitta," "Giving is the wish granting tree," "Forbearance is the supreme ornament," "He who grabs at the highest - this is unnecessary bravado," and my favorite, "Any notion of inherent existence has no basis."

What the Dalai Lama was emphasizing was that by understanding the emptiness of temporal existence one can cultivate the awakening mind. It is not an understanding that comes about easily, and the pursuit of awakening involves a path, a method of practices like meditation, good works, study, ritual, and the company of fellow practitioners, in Buddhism known as the Sangha.

An example of the error of mistaking the empty for the real is the blind "patriotism" of the zealots for "American" empire. Pursuit of empire is an intrinsically neurotic and criminal endeavor, as the "country" is slowly finding out. It is also futile, especially in today's world of high-tech, instant worldwide communication, and multiple international interdependencies.

The Dalai Lama talked about the Buddhist attitude of impermanence as inherent in the empty nature of all apparent reality. I felt an immediate connection with my use of quotation marks around the names of "countries," because I have felt intuitively that giving obsessive reality to man-created impositions on the land is one of the principal causes of international (and domestic) conflict and war. The most effective method used by the Bush criminal organization for generating war hysteria against "Iraq" was the paranoid brand of "patriotism" and xenophobia of "others," especially "Muslims" and "Arabs."

In his public lecture at the University of Wisconsin the Dalai Lama spoke about world peace: "Compassion as a method of inner disarmament is the key to happiness and tranquility in the 21st century. With compassion for others resolving emotions such as anger, people can go step by step to external disarmament." He also said that problems have been created by humans and so can be solved by them.

The Tibetan flagHis visit was not without controversy. The Chicago consulate of the "Peoples Republic of China" protested the display of the "Tibetan" flag at the City and County Building, as did the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. Read more here. Madison's mayor, Dave Cieslewicz, refused to meet with the "Chinese" consul.

I have a simple approach to the issue of separation of church and state. Don't have a state. Don't have a religion either. I don't look at Buddhism as a religion, but more as a method of practices for daily living and attainment of an enlightened level of being. I go to Deer Park every so often, but don't consider myself a "Buddhist" or anything else. I'm just me, and even that is largely a matter of conditioning. As the Dalai Lama says, true existence is understanding that there is no self, and that temporary existence is empty. "Any notion of inherent existence has no basis," he spoke.

If church and state have no inherent existence, then separating or joining them are exercises in futility. The controversy is moot. On the practical level, it should be kept in mind that the church-state issue is specific to the kind of mass-industrial society in which we live. It is an ad-hoc issue, not a struggle between absolute principles. In the context of a private enterprise, "capitalistic," "democratic," technological mass system, with a diversity of religious belief systems or lack of same, separation of church and state is a necessary principle for the society to function in a fair and "free" manner. In other kinds of societies, it might not be so crucial or necessary.

So for now, separation is fine. Poor Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Fred Phelps. They'd all like to be running the show, as would their many imitators. For me, I'm glad I have the freedom to follow a guru or not (of which I have done both), to practice several forms of Buddhism, Yoga, Christianity, Sufism (a form of Islam), Native American spirituality, shamanism, Taoism, Paganism, "African" drumming and dance, and anything else that I find interesting and useful. I'm also glad to see the "Tibetan" flag flying over the City of Madison. Here's the flag that currently flies over "Tibet:"

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