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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.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Beauty is truth, and truth beauty

Ingrid Bergman, one of the great beauties of all time. If you find Ann Coulter more uplifting than her, then you are indeed an inside-out person, a negative energy force on this planet.One of the great legends of all time is the Mahabharata, a long epic poem of Vedanta mythology. The best known story in the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad Gita, an epic tale in itself that narrates the conversation between Krishna, the most well-known incarnation of Vishnu, one of the deities of the Hindu trinity, and Arjuna, the commander of the armies of the Pandava princes, who had been cheated out of their kingdom by the sons of Dhritarashtra, a rival king. Arjuna is reluctant to fight, and in a long dialogue Krishna explains to him that it is his duty to fight.

Krishna revealing his divine form to ArjunaThe Bhagavad Gita is a complete scripture in itself, but one chapter in particular, Chapter 11, has come to mind lately. In Chapter 11, Krishna reveals his divine form to Arjuna. Some of the key verses, or shlokas, are as follows:

Verse 4:
Arjuna - "If You think that I am able to behold Your cosmic form, O my Lord, O master of all mystic power, then kindly show me that unlimited universal Self."

Verse 5:
Krishna - "The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Arjuna, O son of Pritha, see now My opulences, hundreds of thousands of varied divine and multicolored forms."

Verse 6:
Krishna - "O best of the Bharatas, see here the different manifestations of Adityas, Vasus, Rudras, Asvini-kumaras and all the other demigods. Behold the many wonderful things which no one has ever seen or heard of before."

Verse 7:
Krishna - "O Arjuna, whatever you wish to see, behold at once in this body of Mine! This universal form can show you whatever you now desire to see and whatever you may want to see in the future. Everything—moving and nonmoving—is here completely, in one place."

Verse 8:
Krishna - "But you cannot see Me with your present eyes. Therefore I give you divine eyes. Behold My mystic opulence!"

Verse 9:
Sanjaya said: O King, having spoken thus, the Supreme Lord of all mystic power, the Personality of Godhead, displayed His universal form to Arjuna.

Verse 10:
"Arjuna saw in that universal form unlimited mouths, unlimited eyes, unlimited wonderful visions. The form was decorated with many celestial ornaments and bore many divine upraised weapons.

Verse 11:
"He wore celestial garlands and garments, and many divine scents were smeared over His body. All was wondrous, brilliant, unlimited, all-expanding."

Verse 12:
"If hundreds of thousands of suns were to rise at once into the sky, their radiance might resemble the effulgence of the Supreme Person in that universal form."

Verse 13:
"At that time Arjuna could see in the universal form of the Lord the unlimited expansions of the universe situated in one place although divided into many, many thousands."

Verse 14:
"Then, bewildered and astonished, his hair standing on end, Arjuna bowed his head to offer obeisances and with folded hands began to pray to the Supreme Lord."

Verse 15:
"Arjuna said: My dear Lord Krishna, I see assembled in Your body all the demigods and various other living entities. I see Brahma sitting on the lotus flower, as well as Lord Shiva and all the sages and divine serpents."
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I think the point is made. God, known as Brahman in the Vedantic tradition, is all-powerful, all-beautiful, all-knowing, all-present, beyond human understanding or imagination.

But we can get glimpses, and the glimpses can inspire us to persevere, to aspire to higher levels of being, to be better persons, and to perform meditative practices and good works.

Meeting Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin was one such experience recently, when I helped her group hand out candy to kids at a local Memorial Day parade event. I wrote about it in I love a parade, part 2. Her decency and wisdom are near-transcendent. She also has radiant beauty.

More recently I have gotten to know a co-worker who is as beautiful as anyone I have ever met, a woman whose inner beauty is as great as is her outer beauty. A mother of three, she is happily married, and matter-of-fact about the joys and hardships that she endures, the same kinds of experiences we all have.

The inspiration of great beauty is a strange process. I found myself wishing that no sorrow or difficulty should ever come to this person; that time should have no effect on her; that no harm should come to anyone close to her.

Then I started feeling ridiculous. I put it into a bit of perspective, realizing that in many ways beauty is a burden - that it is fragile, temporary, and so out of the ordinary that it can set a person apart from others. It can also attract unwanted attention, jealousy, and resentment.

After all these considerations, I was still in a bit of a wonderment about beauty in general, and my great fortune in getting to know these two women, great beauties, in slightly different ways, as well as many others in my life. Then I was reminded of the Bhagavad Gita, and also of my involvement in the path of Siddha Yoga, which, though a pretty corrupt cult, had strong connections to the spiritual traditions of India.

Statue of Lord Shiva at the Muktananda ashram in South Fallsburg, New York, 1981.The main deity worshipped in Siddha Yoga was Shiva, the third member of the Hindu trinity, known as the destroyer and regenerator. Shiva exists in consort with his female complement Shakti, the energy aspect of Shiva, also known as the Divine Mother.

One of the chants we often did in the Siddha Yoga programs is titled "Kali Durge." It is a litany of the various names of female deities in Hinduism, also known as Sanatana Dharma. In chanting of Sanskrit names and mantras, the practitoner can awaken, or propitiate the energy and blessings of the deities.

With all these factors in mind, the main realization that came to me in regard to my new friend is she is an example of a metaphor I have come to realize about my own life. I wasn't much of a soldier, mostly making the Army sorry for having me around, but something sunk in on a deep level. I'm not a very good example of a patriot either, but under certain circumstances, I would do what I call "taking the entire hill by myself." I would charge whatever "enemy" in question without any help or direction, and would destroy the opposing force completely. This is on a mythical level, and I have no sense of "dying for a cause." Defeat is out of the question. This is not so much a dream as an attitude. If I were meant to have an ordinary life, I'd probably be driving kids to school, as Leo Kottke once put it.

I would take the entire hill for Tammy Baldwin, and for my friend at work, and for any of my relatives. As the Lakota and other tribes say, Mitakuye Oyasin.

Another person I would conquer an entire hill for is Kristen Breitweiser, one of the Jersey Girls - the widows of September 11, 2001 victims, who shamed our criminal Congress into investigating the negligence that led to the attacks. It's not that I wouldn't do the same for the other survivors - it's just this woman's courage and eloquence touched me deeply. Writing this blog is a huge strain, and sometimes not a particularly healthy thing to do. All I have to do is think of these people, and I can keep writing. Maybe it will do some good. You never know how big the hill is.

A weak example of the attitude of taking the hill by myself, but where the metaphor first came to me, is from when I was a member of a group of veterans advocating peace. The group got attacked by the Freepers, a fake masculinity "right wing" organization that flexes its pretend muscles by trashing "liberals," or anyone it perceives as attackable. I designed and edited the antiwar veterans group's website, and responded to the "Freeper" attack without hesitation. Due to the limits of posting on this blog, I had to divide my response into four parts, in JPEG format, which can be seen here: 1, 2, 3, and 4. The links on the "Freeper" reply are no longer useful, the veterans advocating peace site no longer exists, and I am no longer a member of the group. My effort was unappreciated, and generated a lot of jealousy and hostility, largely due to simmering animosities. If you rent "Life of Brian," you will get a perfect lesson in "leftist" group dynamics, to say nothing of laughing yourself silly.

I should correct a couple of errors in my reply to the "Freepers." Bob Kimbrough, the Korean war veteran they tried to ridicule, received four Purple Heart awards and a Silver Star for combat valor. He retired from the Army reserves as a full colonel (also known as a "full bird"), not a lieutenant colonel. He could literally have taken an entire hill of "Freepers," an organization of traitors if there ever was one, by himself, even today.

Which brings this essay to its main purpose. The inspiration/awakening I have been receiving about beauty has been most beneficial because we are in times of such great ugliness. We have a criminal gang running our Federal Government. It is "led" by a drug and alcohol addicted corporate criminal, who is also a military deserter and traitor. This gang has invaded two countries, and a vast amount of carnage and death has resulted. They are torturing people worldwide. They are committing many more crimes, which we are finding out on a daily basis. We have a corporate media empire giving it succor, propaganda cover, and social homage and comeraderie. The worst of this succor is manifest in grotesqueries: Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage (Weiner), Glenn Beck, Tucker Carlson, and the milder varieties like David Brooks of the New York Times, and David Broder of the Washington Post.

These grotesqueries can also be likened to gargoyles, or the Rakshasas of Hindu mythology. Geshe Sopa refers to "Hell beings," who earned their residence through evil deeds.

Though these people have been given great assistance from corpoations such as Fox, there is a certain perversity, a sophistry - the philosophic practice of making the weaker argument the stronger - that has gone beyond mere corporate propaganda. It is a perversity of the soul, a descent into a Hades of the mind, a degeneration of the character of the individuals who freely choose their own downfall.

What to call this phenomenon? How about the era of upside-down, or inside-out, down-is-up, ugly is beautiful, war is peace, ignorance is strength? Hmm. It seems we have heard the last two before somewhere.

Me at the Grand Canyon. It was near the end of a long camping trip, and I was pretty “beautied out,” but I felt right at home there, like it was an extension of myself, even a friend.Maybe the cure is as simple as finding beauty. Rather than endless ideological yammering, we could start promoting appreciation of beauty. Visit a museum, a national park, a wonder of nature, or a great work of architecture. Read some Shakespeare, Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain, or Hemingway. Listen to some great music - Mozart, Yehudi Menuhin, Ravi Shankar, or, say, the Beatles' "Dear Prudence." Admire a beautiful person with pure apprecitation for his or her existence. Watch "Foyle's War" on PBS. Read a bit of Keats.

A sunrise over the Neckar River in Heidelberg, Germany, spring 1971This twisting of ugliness into beauty, and beauty to ugliness will end fairly soon. Let's hope it ends before we destroy ourselves. I, for one, do not have the capacity to charge many more hills.
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Here are a few must reads: Frank Rich, Paul Krugman, and Chris Hedges & Laila Al-Arian.
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Here's some beautiful tunes: Dear Prudence, Rain, Across the Universe, In my life, Act Naturally, Tomorrow Never Knows/Within You and Without You, Flying/Blue Jay Way, Dear One, Here comes the sun, Let it Be, and All You Need is Love.

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