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Tibet Isn't a Buddhist Litmus Test

The Soul Hypothesis (part 3)

Most people, one imagines, would be fascinated to set out in search of their souls. But they would be held back by two immediate obstacles. First, we use the word “soul” very loosely, with no specific ways to validate what we mean. Second, the tools for exploring the spiritual domain are limited. Most people only know about faith and prayer, with the recent addition of meditation that still applies to a relative few. Both of these obstacles need to be overcome before one can intelligently experience the soul.

The Soul Hypothesis (part 4)

Most people relegate matters of the soul to their religion, which is a comforting choice. It’s been said that religion is about someone else’s experience while spirituality is about your own. The experiences of a Jesus or Buddha were exalted and holy. Attaching yourself to them feels safer than exploring the unknown by yourself. But there are reliable guides to the domain of the soul. As we saw in the previous post, the first step is to go beyond the five senses, venturing into the domain of intuition, insight, and subtle emotions. Each person will be guided differently into this shadowy region of the self, but the Indian tradition (among others) provides us with four broad pathways.

The Inconvenience of Democracy

The confusion around picking a Presidential candidate in both parties has led to a much more open nominating process. For the first time in decades the potential front-runners are spending huge amounts of time and money in small states, and crossover independent voters have a significant voice in picking the winner. Could it be that democracy is cautiously rearing its head? Both political parties have become used to choosing their candidates by organizing local party regulars and then going through a few skirmishes in the early primaries before announcing to the populace who the chosen nominee is.

Why Political Optimism and Spiritual Optimism Are the Same

There was a collective moment of euphoria for many people when Barack Obama gave his victory speech in Iowa, followed by two weeks of steady deflation. New Hampshire and Nevada didn’t ride the wave of hope and optimism being generated that night. It’s easy to become disillusioned by this, because experience teaches us that euphoria is temporary. However, we are reminded of the power of optimism today on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. The same pundits who wanted to anoint Obama on the spot now prudently observe that he has to fight if he wants to win the nomination of his party. America, we are told, wants and needs the spectacle of such a fight.

Don’t Pass the Torch, Put It Out

One hears considerable talk, either with panic or jubilation, that no one is emerging as the bearer of the torch of Reaganism in the Republican party. Conservatives who have held sway since 1980, taking only eight years off during the Clinton era, can’t reach a consensus. Commentators are predicting that the fractured Republican primaries, having picked two different winners in Iowa and New Hampshire, may pick a third or fourth winner in Michigan, South Carolina, and Florida, adding Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani to the list. Perhaps the attempt to fuse together a united right-wing coalition is as doomed as the attempt to resuscitate the Roosevelt coalition in the Fifties.

I Know I'm Right, So Why Be Fair?

Below is an article forwarded to me by its author, the noted biologist and evolutionary thinker, Rupert Sheldrake. It’s about an encounter with the equally noted biologist and evolutionary thinker, Richard Dawkins. The subject isn’t atheism, Dawkins’ last hobby horse, but reason and science. Under the guise of an interview for a television series, Sheldrake found himself sandbagged by Dawkins’ personal polemics (an experience more than one of us has had when called upon to represent views contrary to Dawkins, only to find them distorted and mocked once the film has been edited, and without a chance for rebuttal, of course).

The War To End All Wars (For Real This Time)

In the aftermath of World War I, the horror of that conflict gave rise to a slogan that quickly turned into a bitter irony. “The war to end all wars” was only a prelude to more of the same, if not worse, with the arrival of World War II. Now there’s reason to resurrect the phrase, not as applied to the so-called war on terror but to global warming. If the war against climate change is to be won, it will require an era of unprecedented cooperation and the dropping of national boundaries. Some might say it would require a change in human nature itself. Conventional war isn’t compatible with any of these things and must come to an end.

The Brain Without Wires

The notion that the human brain is “hard-wired” was a favorite theme even up to recently, because it helped explain how certain behaviors were determined by genes. We were told that depression, addiction, even obesity were not the result of choice or environment. Rather, these and a host of other behaviors were rooted in the brain and ultimately in a person’s DNA.

Popular articles continue to appear on how women’s brains are wired differently from men’s, or the teenage brain from either children’s or adult’s. This theory was always a half-truth, and now evidence is arising to show that the brain may be much more flexible than was supposed, which is good news for anyone who believes in freedom of choice as well as consciousness itself.

It's Hard Being Purple

The polar ice is melting at an alarming rate, but the political ice jam in this country isn’t. While the public looks on with increasing disgust, a Democratic Congress can’t get President. Bush and his loyal Republicans to budge on any key legislation. Health care for children has been vetoed twice, war funding reaches new levels, tax reform is stalled, immigration reform is dead, and a government budget bill is being held hostage. Even as we learn that public approval of Congress has sunk to 21%, lower even than Bush’s dismal ratings, calls for meaningful progress between the two sides go unheeded.

Religion's Greatest Enemy?

Decades after Monty Python came to an end, John Cleese is dapper, intelligent, freethinking, and still funny. I heard him give an impromptu talk and came away with one of his best lines: “The biggest enemy of religion is spirituality.” The talk was in California among people who immediately applauded. On a certain level it’s only a quip, because spirituality, in its truest sense, has no enemies. The same can’t be said of religion. Nobody needs reminding of that, yet last week two sorrowful examples were added to the list. In Sudan mobs marched in the street demanding death for a hapless British school teacher who had allowed her class of seven-year-olds to name a teddy bear Muhammad.