On Being a Nash Rambler

Science Fiction movies like Terminator and I, Robot conjure a future in which humans fight for the survival of our species against our machines. In various other science fiction scenarios, humans fight for the survival of our species against interplanetary aliens. These themes depend upon and evoke a loyalty to "our species." But to what, gentle reader, should you and I be loyal?

What does humanity represent that dispassionately warrants preserving? Once we ask the question this way, it's hard to see our particular genome as essential. Rather, it is the attributes that manifest this genome that we value. Those attributes might manifest from very different genomes -- or in metal and silicon. The attributes to which our loyalty and our lives may rightly stand don't require the specific homo sapiens genome, but they do require a high degree of complexity. In the story of our world and our place in it, we now know it is not scientifically reputable to say that evolution is aimed at "us" if "us" means the homo sapiens genome. But perhaps if "us" means any species with a certain high level of complexity sufficient for highly elaborate symbolic language and social organization, then evolution does have an arrow, and it flies toward "us." That is, it does if evolution by its nature tends toward greater complexity. Does it? I think so.

The last Lake Chalice considered the role of competition in spurring species evolution toward greater complexity. We now consider the opposite: cooperation.

When does it pay to compete and when does it pay to cooperate? Cooperation can benefit both parties, but if you’re premature in offering your cooperation, it’s disastrous. You get taken advantage of: left with nothing, or eaten. For a cell, or something even simpler, such as an autocatalytic protein, payoff is measured only in terms of how many replications of yourself will persist through how long a time. Entering into a cooperative relationship is risky. But under the right conditions, it improves your chances of replicating.

Mathematician John Nash (portrayed by Russell Crowe in the 2001 movie, A Beautiful Mind), established the mathematics of cooperative strategies. In their blind, stumbling way genes come to pursue strategies without thinking about the goal. Over time, natural selection preserves the strategies that lead to the most payoff – the most replications over the longest period of time – and those are just the strategies that Nash’s mathematics tells us would necessarily produce the most payoff.

Sooner or later, given enough encounters, the mitochondria’s precursor and the nucleus’ precursor are going to figure out how to cooperate to create the nucleated cell.

Then these more complex nucleated cells are going to work out schemes of cooperation to form multi-celled organisms.

Then those multi-celled organisms are going to come to take in more and more different cells, each taking on more and more highly specialized functions – all as strategies for giving themselves more payoff, more replication.

It takes an awful long time for dumb cells to stumble blindly onto the cooperative strategies that John Nash proved do, in fact, most improve their odds. It takes billions of years. The vastness of the time scale alone induces awe and wonder. And there’s something beautiful about that slow, slow, slow, incredibly patient unfolding of life. Frankly, a story of creation in six days is spiritually short-changing.

What kind of animals will emerge from this growing complexity of more and more cells acting together cooperatively there’s no predicting – except we do know, if Robert Wright and I are correct, that they will tend toward greater complexity. Creation ambles and rambles, moving in no straight line, going down a lot of dead ends, gradually working out ways to overcome the barriers to mutual cooperation. There is indeed an inexorable logic of cooperation pulling alongside the push of competition. The social species (humans, ants, etc.) have hit upon ways to utilize Nash's equations. We are Nash ramblers.

The same logic that leads cells to cooperate to create a larger organism eventually leads individuals (in some species) to cooperate to form a larger organism called "society." The need for one group to compete with another puts a premium on cooperation among the members of the group -- and better cooperation within groups intensifies the competition between groups. Cooperation works, we might say, “in harmony” with competition, like those chimps forming coalitions to compete with other coalitions.
“Some zoologists suspect that chimps and bonobos have long been ‘held back’ by the presence of humans – kept from moving out of the jungle onto grasslands and, more generally, from filling the human niche” (Wright, Nonzero, 292)
So if all humans suddenly vanished today, the chimps would Nash-ramble out into the savanna, start spending more of their time walking upright, which would conduce to the voice box dropping down in the throat, which would allow production of more subtle vocal sounds, which, in combination with the positive feedback loop they already have for increased political savvy, would cause the use of those subtle distinctions in vocal sound in a more complex symbolic language.

If some virus wipes out all the humans but not the chimps, probably in about a couple million years or so, we’ll be back – that is, a species very like humans: five or six feet tall, with the armpits, bad jokes, spectator sports, musical instruments, and the whole nine yards. How’s that for a story to give us a sense of our place in the scheme of things?

* * *
This is part 6 of 7 of "Eschatology: Evolution's Arrow"
Next: Part 7: "Thank God for Evolution"
Previous: Part 5: "Of Arms and the Man I Sing"
Beginning: Part 1: "Science, Religion, and a Bud Vase"


Of Arms and the Man I Sing

The previous "Evolution's Arrow" segment of Lake Chalice concluded with the question: “Was Gould right that there is no direction for evolution? Species change, and there’s no general characterization of the overall tendency of that change?” Let’s think about this.

Ultimately nothing separates us from the other animals, other life, or from the earth itself. A little more of this, a little less of that – no firm barriers. It’s a story that evokes depths of gratitude; wonder and awe. And, I believe, although we cannot know the details, it is headed for something grander, we know not what. Science writer Robert Wright argues against Gould and in favor of the thesis that evolution necessarily tends toward greater complexity. In the end, I find Robert Wright more persuasive. Two powerful forces engender ever-greater complexity: competition and cooperation.


Robert Wright points to the “arms race” phenomenon, which, he says, Gould ignores. It isn’t just the environment – as in climate or food sources or the oceans coming in or going out – that changes to produce new evolutionary pressures. Significant pressure comes inter-species competition: predators and prey compete to outsmart each other like Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner, and, somewhat less significantly, predators compete with other predator species to get to the food first. Another pressure comes from competition between individuals within certain social species.

Consider the beetle – and remember we have a common ancestor with them, too. When beetles first came along, there weren’t any animals specifically adapted to eat them. After a while, “various animals did acquire, by natural selection, the means to kill and eat” beetles. This spurred a response. The bombardier beetle is able to squirt out a scalding chemical mix upon would-be diners. This prompts beetle predators to adapt accordingly. Skunks and one species of mice “have evolved specialized innate behavior patterns that cause the spray to be discharged harmlessly, and they can then eat the beetles.” This sort of arms race among species drives them toward complexity.
“In North America, the ‘relative brain size’ of carnivorous mammals – brain size corrected for body size – showed a strong tendency to grow over time. And so did the relative brain size of the herbivorous mammals that were their prey.” (Wright, Nonzero, 270)
As the predators got smarter, the prey had to get smarter too to find ways of eluding capture, and as the prey got smarter, the predators had to get smarter still to keep on outsmarting them. It was an arms race of brain power that drove toward the greater complexity represented by those relatively bigger brains.

Without the arms race, there’s less pressure for increased complexity. During the same period that North American herbivores were getting smarter,
“South American herbivorous mammals, which faced no predators, showed almost no growth in relative brain size. Apparently, ongoing species-against-species duels are conducive to progress.”
They're plotting something.
Besides arms races between species, there are arms races within a given species.
“The male chimps, it turns out, spend lots of time scheming to top each other. They form coalitions that, on attaining political dominance, get special sexual access to ovulating females – at the great Darwinian expense of less successful coalitions. So males with genes conducive to political savviness should on average get the most genes into the next generation, raising the average level of savviness. And the savvier the average chimp, the savvier chimps have to be to excel in the next round. And so on: an arms race in savviness – that is, an arms race in behavioral flexibility. There’s little doubt that this dynamic has helped make chimps as smart as they are, and there’s no clear reason why the process should stop where it is now.” (271)
Meanwhile, the female chimps have their own selective pressure to develop political savviness. Female savviness increases the prospects for their young to survive. Competition pushes species toward more behavioral flexibility – more complexity.

Next: Cooperation

* * *
This is part 5 of 7 of "Eschatology: Evolution's Arrow"

Next: Part 6: "On Being a Nash Rambler"
Previous: Part 4: "Would-a, Could-a, Gould-a"
Beginning: Part 1: "Science, Religion, and a Bud Vase"


Saturdao 17

Dao De Jing, verse 11a

16 translations

30 spokes? Sometimes 6 will do.
1. James Legge:
The thirty spokes unite in the one nave; but it is on the empty space (for the axle), that the use of the wheel depends.
Clay is fashioned into vessels; but it is on their empty hollowness, that their use depends.
2. Archie Bahm:
Every positive factor involves its negative or opposing factor; for example:
In order to turn a wheel, although thirty spokes must revolve, the axle must remain motionless; so both the moving and the non-moving are needed to produce revolution.
In order to mold a vase, although one must use clay, he must also provide a hollow space empty of clay; so both clay and the absence of clay are required to produce a vessel.
3. Frank MacHovec:
Thirty spokes unite at the hub but the ultimate use of the wheel depends on the part where nothing exists.
Clay is molded into a vessel but the ultimate use of the vessel depends upon the part where nothing exists.
4. D.C. Lau:
Thirty spokes share one hub.
Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand, and you will have the use of the cart.
Knead clay in order to make a vessel.
Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand, and you will have the use of the vessel.
14 spokes on this one.
5. Gia-Fu Feng:
Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
6. Stan Rosenthal:
“The Utility of Non-Existence”
Though thirty spokes may form the wheel, it is the hole within the hub which gives the wheel utility.
It is not the clay the potter throws which gives the pot its usefulness, but the space within the shape from which the pot is made.
7. Jacob Trapp:
“Stillness, Emptiness”
Thirty spokes radiate,
United into a whool
By the stillness at the hub
Around which they revolve.
A bowl of clay
Cups an empty space
Waiting to be filled.
And thereby serves
This one has 16. Would 30 fit?
8. Stephen Mitchell:
We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.
9. Victor Mair:
Thirty spokes converge on a single hub,
but it is in the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the cart lies.
Clay is molded to make a pot,
but it is in the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the clay pot lies.
10. Michael LaFargue:
Thirty spokes unite in one hollow hub --
in this ‘nothing’ lies the wheel’s usefulness.
Knead clay to make a jar --
in its ‘nothing’ lies the jar’s usefulness.
30 spokes!
11. Peter Merel:
Thirty spokes meet at a nave;
Because of the hole we may use the wheel.
Clay is moulded into a vessel;
Because of the hollow we may use the cup.
12. Ursula LeGuin:
“The uses of not”
Thirty spokes
meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn’t
is where it’s useful.
Hollowed out,
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not
is where it’s useful.
13. Ron Hogan:
A wheel has spokes,
but it rotates around a hollow center.
A pot is made out of clay or glass,
but you keep things in the empty space inside.
14. Ames and Hall:
The thirty spokes converge at one hub,
But the utility of the cart is a function of the nothingness (wu) inside the hub.
We throw clay to shape a pot,
But the utility of the clay pot is a function of the nothingness inside it.
15. Yasuhiko Genku Kimura:
Thirty spokes share a hub;
The usefulness of the cart
lies in the space where there is nothing.
Clay is kneaded into a vessel;
The usefulness of the vessel
lies in the space where there is nothing.
16. Addiss and Lombardo:
Thirty spokes join one hub.
The wheel’s use comes from emptiness.
Clay is fired to make a pot.
The pot’s use comes from emptiness.

* * * * * * *
If all of space were full of solid matter, nothing could move or live.
(Just now is not the time to say, "And it is! And they don't!")
Emptiness is the space of possibility: where nothing is, anything could be.
(Just now might -- I don't know -- be the time to say, "When the emptiness is filled, it is still just as empty.")

* * * * * * *
See Saturdao Index


Would-a, Could-a, Gould-a

We're pretty sure evolution is not, and never has been, headed in a specific direction: it’s not a process for generating any particular species or trait. The question is: Is evolution headed in a general direction -- toward increased complexity, whatever form that complexity may take?

If the evolution story is to function as our creation myth – that is, the story about how we got here that situates our spirits and awakens awe and gratitude – then we need to explore this question.

The late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941 - 2002) was the most prominent science writer to argue that no, evolution has no direction to it. He raised some good points. Evolution is not a story of progress, he said, it is only a story of constantly shifting adaptation. He didn’t just mean that a species like homo sapiens would be unlikely – a species five or six feet tall with armpits, bad jokes, musical instruments, and all the rest. Gould meant that “the chances of getting any species smart enough to reflect on itself are ‘extremely small’.” (Robert Wright, Nonzero, 267). On Gould’s picture of the basic principles of life, yes, the outer envelope of organic complexity may tend to rise – “the most complex creature may increase in elaboration through time.” But there’s no built-in drive toward complexity. Exhibit A for Gould’s argument is that there actually are some species that have gotten less complex through evolution. If the costs of maintaining a complex feature become greater than the advantages, selection will tend toward the loss of that feature. For example, species that have moved into environments of total darkness have gradually lost complexity in their eyes and optic nerves, sometimes without any increased complexity in other ways.

The blind mole rat has tiny eyes
completely covered by a layer of skin.
That’s a good point.

Gould's exhibit B is that “Bacteria showed up billions of years ago, and there’s a lot of them still around, evincing no aspiration to climb higher on the tree of life” (Wright 267). Modal complexity – that is, the level of complexity at which the greatest number of living things resides – the mode – shows no tendency to grow. None. The most plentiful life form on the planet, both numerically and in sheer pounds, is just as simple now as it was two billion years ago.

That’s a good point, too. And one to remember in our spiritual moments of awe at the wonder of life.

Thus, concluded Gould, there is no built-in tendency toward complexity. For Gould, when complexity emerges, this is a matter of random variability. And even when it does happen, there’s no guarantee that a shift in the environment might not exert evolutionary pressure on that species for reduced complexity. Although it is rare, sometimes dumbing down improves odds of reproductive success. For some reason, whenever I say that dumbing down can sometimes improve reproductive success, many people find themselves remembering being in high school.

Was Gould right that there is no direction for evolution? Species change, and there’s no general characterization of the overall tendency of that change?

Next: Why Gould was wrong.

* * * * * * *
This is part 4 of 7 of "Eschatology: Evolution's Arrow"

Next: Part 5: "Of Arms and the Man I Sing"
Previous: Part 3: "Flukes of the Universe"
Beginning: Part 1: "Science, Religion, and a Bud Vase"


Flukes of the Universe

Our hearts and heads need a story. We need a story about, in Douglas Adams' phrase, "life, the universe, and everything." We need that story to be both scientifically respectable and spiritually relevant. Evolution provides a scientifically respectable story about the emergence of life. Moreover, more and more people are understanding and telling that story in a way that is spiritually relevant.

The theory’s basic idea is that complexity builds up from simplicity. Life is an emergent property: it emerges from billions of lifeless mechanical processes all going on together. Mind is an emergent property: it emerges from billions of mindless reactions all going on together. Religiously, we might say that God, too, can be seen as an emergent property: the sort of knowledge and power commonly associated with God are the product of the trillions of complex algorithms interacting, not the cause.

Evolution does not present us with a linear picture, a straight line of development. Instead, evolution presents a picture of a tree of life, starting at a single point and branching off into the various species. There are billions of branches on that tree. The vast majority of them terminate before reaching the present. And there we are, we homo sapiens, at the tip-end of one twig.

Once you see how the process works, then you see that process isn’t aimed at any of the billions of species it has produced. It’s just algorithms cranking away. This nonlinear picture of a tree of life spreading, spreading, spreading, means that if evolution has a direction, we cannot characterize that direction as toward any one particular species – or even any one particular genus or order or class.

Now we get to a question that scientists are still divided on: Is evolution headed in any particular direction? In terms of species, evolution is heading in billions of directions all at once. The common ancestor of humans and chimps lived about 7 million years, the common ancestor of gorillas, chimps, and humans, about 10 million years ago, and the common ancestor of orangutans, gorillas, chimps, and humans, about 14 million years ago. This means that we are more closely related to chimps than we are to gorillas – and it also means that chimps are more closely related to us than they are to gorillas – they are, in fact, exactly as far removed from gorillas as we are.

If the tree is a good-sized oak tree, then our twig goes back only about an inch before reaching the point where the twig leading back out to the chimps branches off.

There. Our place in the grand scheme of things. On the chimpanzee twig.

This story of a growing, branching tree of life is a story that tells us about who we are, how we got here, what our place is. It’s scientifically reputable, and at the same time, for many of us, spiritually relevant, for it is a story of interconnection. It’s a story that shows us to be the product of grand, noble and creative forces beyond our control -- and also shows us to be the recipient of grace – that is, of gifts that we have done nothing to deserve.

This tree of life did not emerge for the purpose of producing a twig of humans or human-like creatures. If you went back in time 2 billion years and started life on Earth from scratch all over again, the chances that you would ever get a primate, let alone a human, are vanishingly small. Humanity is a cosmic accident. According to a Max Ehrmann's 1927 prose poem, Desiderata,
“you are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars” (full text: click here.)
Put it rather this way: you are a fluke of the universe, and so are the trees and the stars.

* * *
This is part 3 of 7 of "Eschatology: Evolution's Arrow"

Next: Part 4: "Would-a, Could-a, Gould-a"
Previous: Part 2: "Squeezing Science for Spiritual Juice"
Beginning: Part 1: "Science, Religion, and a Bud Vase"


Squeezing Science for Spiritual Juice

The community of scientists over the last 500-hundred years has put together a very detailed story. They didn’t put that story together for religious purposes. They put together a story consisting of theories and laws: theories of matter and species change, laws of motion, of thermodynamics -- inertia, gravity, entropy. These theories and laws, this story, helps with control and prediction. The story allows prediction of how planets and stars or any mass moves, and what happens when certain chemicals or certain genes mix. The scientists' story also guides further research. The story helps scientists identify what's the next thing that needs to be found out, provides some hints about how to go about finding it out.

The science story is for control, prediction, and guiding further research; it's not for religious purposes. Nevertheless, religion, faith, and spirituality can often be aided by a story about how we got here, and what sort of being we are, and what our world is like.

That’s why there’s Genesis, and the thousands of other creation stories among human cultures. Creation stories have the spiritual function of situating us: giving us a sense of place and belonging in this world. Creation stories awaken our spirits, arouse us to awe and gratitude, show us that we are each more than merely our ego defenses.

So: the bud vase! The interaction between science and religion lies in the prospect for spiritual fulfillment through the stories the scientists have developed, even though those stories didn’t come from any intent to serve religious purposes.

Figures such as Lao-Tzu and Buddha and Jesus and St. Francis show us that you don’t have to have modern science’s stories in order to perceive the intrinsic beauty, goodness, and interconnection of things – at least, they didn’t. But if science’s stories help those of us who don’t have the natural spiritual gifts or haven’t had the experiences those figures had, then let us make what use we can of science’s stories. Buddha and Jesus didn’t need the scientific knowledge that every breath of air they took contained molecules present at the origin of the universe, that our planet and our bodies are composed of the dust of stars, that sea turtles and humans share a common ancestor, that 98.4 percent of our DNA is the same as a chimpanzee’s, or that about 50 percent of our DNA is the same as a banana’s. But if knowing that helps us awaken to awe,
   and thus to beauty,
      and thus to gratitude,
         and thus to compassion,
then let’s squeeze those scientific findings for all the spiritual juice we can.

Particularly for us Unitarian Universalists, the project of using scientific findings within a spiritually satisfying story is an important one. We want a story both scientifically respectable and spiritually relevant.

* * * * * * *
This is part 2 of 7 of "Eschatology: Evolution's Arrow"
Next: Part 3: "Flukes of the Universe"
Previous: Part 1: "Science, Religion, and a Bud Vase"


Science, Religion, and a Bud Vase

My interest in philosophy of science began when I was an assistant debate coach, and a graduate student in communication studies, with a focus on argumentation theory. Once you start looking at what makes a good argument, it isn’t long before you’re drawn to look at the way scientists work, how they put together their arguments, what it is that makes science science.

My interest in philosophy of science continued through my graduate school years. I was impressed by the pragmatists' emphasis on purpose – the purpose of science. One Christmas time I was home visiting with my parents. “Science,” I said to my Mom, who had been chemistry and physics graduate student and then professor for longer than I had been alive, “is about control and prediction. Given a certain set of conditions, what will result? We want to be able to predict. Prediction allows us to have certain amount of control. And the theories of science – the atomic theory of matter, the Copernican model of the solar system, the Darwinian theory of evolution – are the large-scale narratives that help all our predictive discoveries hang together in a coherent way so that we can remember them, and be guided to the next experiment to further improve our ability to control and predict.

Mom was thoughtful. "It’s about explanation," she said. "Science wants to explain things."

Well, yes, science is about explanation. The philosopher in me then raises this question: what is explanation? What does it mean to explain? A literature teacher explains James Joyce’s Ulysses. The chess master explains why it’s better not to take the bishop on move 21. A museum docent explains the Van Gogh paintings. You explain to your new friend the idiosyncratic behavior of your old friend. These are all very different, though they all go by the name explanation.

Science offers a sort of explanation. Science helps us make sense of things in one particular way: namely, a way that allows for control and prediction.

Religion helps us make sense of things in a different way. Where science helps us control and predict the universe, religion helps us befriend our world, enter into a relationship of love and value with it. Scientific understanding lets us know what’s going to happen. Religious understanding lets us feel at home in this universe, at peace with it, whatever may happen.

Twenty years after my first excursions into philosophy of science, I was in my final term at divinity school – Meadville Lombard Theological Seminary – taking a class on religion and science. I expressed to the class my opinion: "Science and religion have no more to do with each other than auto mechanics and flower arrangement. They’re both worthwhile enterprises that enrich and assist human life, but we shouldn’t expect there to be any connection between them. There is no connection."

One of my fellow students, piped up: “What about that bud vase in the new Volkswagen beetle?”

Introduced in 1998, the New Beetle comes standard with a small bud vase positioned to the right of the steering wheel. Sometimes cars and flower arrangement do come together. Oh, that bud vase! We humans, we animals, we life forms, bumble around doing various things: now arranging flowers, now building cars, and constantly telling ourselves stories: some of which help us control and predict things, and some of which help us befriend and be aware of connection. And yet: the bud vase. . . .

* * *
This is part 1 of 7 of "Eschatology: Evolution's Arrow"
Next: Part 2: "Squeezing Science for Spiritual Juice"


Saturdao 16

Dao De Jing, verse 10b

16 translations

1. James Legge:
In the opening and shutting of his gates of heaven, cannot he do so as a female bird?
While his intelligence reaches in every direction, cannot he (appear to) be without knowledge?
(The Dao) produces (all things) and nourishes them; it produces them and does not claim them as its own;
it does all, and yet does not boast of it; it presides over all, and yet does not control them.
This is what is called 'The mysterious Quality' (of the Dao).
2. Archie Bahm:
If Nature’s way is a joint process of initiation and completion, sowing and reaping, producing and consuming, can you rightly demand that you deserve always to play the role of the consumer?
If you desire to know the natures of the various kinds of things, must you meddle with them, experiment with them, try to change them, in order to find one?
Nature procreates all things and then devotes itself to caring for them,
Just as parents give birth to children without keeping them as slaves.
It willingly gives life, without first asking whether the creatures will repay for its services.
It provides a pattern to follow, without requiring anyone to follow it.
This is the secret of intelligent activity.
3. Frank MacHovec:
Can you play the same role always?
Give birth; provide nourishment; do this without being possessive. Give help without obligation. Lead without dominating. This the Mystic Virtue (De).
4. D.C. Lau:
When the gates of heaven open and shut
Are you capable of keeping to the role of the female?
When your discernment penetrates the four quarters
Are you capable of not knowing anything?
It gives them life and rears them.
It gives them life yet claims no possession;
It benefits them yet exacts no gratitude;
It is the steward yet exercises no authority.
Such is called the mysterious virtue.
5. Gia-Fu Feng:
Opening and closing the gates of heaven,
Can you play the role of woman?
Understanding and being open to all things,
Are you able to do nothing?
Giving birth and nourishing,
Bearing yet not possessing,
Working yet not taking credit,
Leading yet not dominating,
This is the Primal Virtue.
6. Stan Rosenthal:
“Cleaning the Dark Mirror”
He cultivates without possessing, thus providing nourishment,
he remains receptive to changing needs, and creates without desire.
By leading from behind, attending to that which must be done,
he is said to have attained the mystic state.
7. Jacob Trapp:
“Inward Mysterious Power”
Can you go before, guiding others,
And yet remain in the background?
To bring forth, to nourish;
To love without taking possession;
To act without appropriating;
To excel without standing over;
This is called the inward mysterious power
Of those who live according to Dao.
8. Stephen Mitchell
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from you own mind
and thus understand all things?
Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.
9. Victor Mair:
Open and close the gate of heaven,
can you play the part of the female?
Reach out with clarity in all directions,
can you refrain from action?
It gives birth to them and nurtures them,
It gives birth to them but does not possess them,
It rears them but does not control them.
This is called “mysterious integrity.”
10. Michael LaFargue:
When ‘the Doors of Heaven open and shut,’
can you remain Feminine?
When ‘Clarity and bareness penetrate everywhere,’
can you remain not doing?
Produce and nourish.
Produce but don’t possess
Work but don’t rely on this
Preside but don’t rule.
This is mysterious De.
11. Peter Merel:
Opening your heart, you become accepted;
Accepting the world, you embrace the Way.
Bearing and nurturing,
Creating but not owning,
Giving without demanding,
This is harmony.
12. Ursula LeGuin:
Opening, closing the Gate of Heaven,
can you be like a bird with her nestlings?
Piercing bright through the cosmos,
can you know by not knowing?
To give birth, to nourish,
to bear and not to own,
to act and not lay claim,
to lead and not to rule:
this is mysterious power.
13. Ron Hogan:
Can you deal with what's happening
and let it happen?
Can you forget what you know
and understand what's real?
Start a job and see it through.
Have things
without holding on to them.
Do the job
without expectation of reward.
Lead people
without giving orders.
That’s the way you do it.
14. Ames and Hall:
With nature’s gates swinging open and closed,
Are you able to remain the female?
With your insight penetrating the four quarters,
Are you able to do it without recourse to wisdom?
It gives life to things and nurtures them.
Giving life without managing them
And raising them without lording it over them --
This is called the profoundest efficacy (de).
15. Yasuhiko Genku Kimura:
Be receptive as a gentle female in the rhythmic intercourse of the Kosmos.
Remain in the state of not-knowing
While achieving knowledge in all fields.
This is the spiritual virtue of the Kosmos.
Birthing Life without possessing,
Nurturing life without expecting,
Rearing life without dominating.
16. Addiss and Lombardo:
Can you open and close
The gate of heaven
Without clinging to earth?
Can you brighten
The four directions
Without action?
Give birth and cultivate.
Give birth and do not possess.
Act without dependence.
Excel but do not rule.
This is called dark De.

* * * * * * *
You are receptive, therefore fecund. Life grows in you and comes forth from you without your choosing, without your knowing anything about it. You are responsible for nothing -- therefore everything. That's because "you" has disappeared. OK? OK! Oh. De!

* * * * * * *
See: Saturdao Index


Justice in the Anthropocene

Conservation groups have begun to pay more attention to the needs of indigenous peoples. Today, most conservation groups have policies of best practice intended to protect the rights of local communities, and conservation, and conservationists are increasingly hiring social scientists and anthropologists who incorporate indigenous people into their conservation strategies. That’s a good move, but it’s just a beginning. Conservation will be controversial as long as it remains so narrowly focused on the creation of parks and protected areas, and insists, often unfairly, that local people cannot be trusted to care for their land. People will not protect the Earth if they are not protected themselves.
"Consider the decline of the orangutan, which has been largely attributed to the logging of their forest habitats. Recent field studies suggest that humans are killing the orangutans for bush meat and bounty at rates far greater than anyone suspected, and it is this practice, not deforestation, that places orangutans at the greatest peril. In order to save the orangutan, conservationists will also have to address the problem of food and income deprivation in Indonesia. That means conservationists will have to embrace human development and the 'exploitation of nature' for human uses, like agriculture, even while they seek to 'protect' nature inside of parks." (Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz, Michelle Marvier, "Conservation in the Anthropocene," Breakthrough Journal, Fall 2011. Click here.)
As a recent article in Breakthrough Journal argues:
“In the developing world, efforts to constrain growth and protect forests from agriculture are unfair, if not unethical, when directed at the 2.5 billion people who live on less than two dollars a day and the one billion who are chronically hungry.” (Kareiva, Lalasz, Marvier, "Conservation in the Anthropocene.")
Conservation has had a hard row to hoe when it has battled the interests of the wealthy. Better to make common cause than to fight, for many of those wealthy love trees and parks, and generously fund conservation efforts. If conservation is doing battle with two or three billion people who need to feed and house themselves, it doesn’t stand a chance. Conservation cannot win against numbers that large. Better to make common cause than to fight.
“By pitting people against nature, conservationists actually create an atmosphere in which people see nature as the enemy.” (Kareiva, Lalasz, Marvier, "Conservation in the Anthropocene.")
When we ignore people justice in the name of Earth justice, we court retaliation from the people. For example, the Ugandan government created Lake Mburo National Park in 1982.
“In the name of preserving the wildlife, the government violently expelled thousands of men, women, and children from the surrounding region, without compensation. . . . In 1986, a new government encouraged these conservation refugees to resettle their former homelands, where they promptly slaughtered wildlife and vandalized the park facilities in retribution.” (Kareiva, Lalasz, Marvier, "Conservation in the Anthropocene")
I love our Unitarian Universalist seventh principle – “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” And I love our sixth source – “Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.” Many non-UUs also love those ideals. We love them so much that sometimes we forget that our fifth principle says we covenant to affirm and promote “ . . . the use of the democratic process . . . in society at large.”

People justice means the people get a vote, and the people vote with their feet and their hands and their lives. They vote for food, shelter, clean water, arable land. If these things are ensured – and if education is provided and women are empowered – they will also vote to have fewer children.

“Economic development” rings like a bad word – but that’s because it has for far too long meant more wealth for the wealthy. Much more equitable distribution of resources is what we need: economic development for those who have hardly had any. The Breakthrough Journal article concludes:
“The conservation we will get by embracing human well-being will almost certainly not be the conservation that was imagined in its early days. But it will be more effective and far more broadly supported.” (Kareiva, Lalasz, Marvier, "Conservation in the Anthropocene")
I have evolved. Since LoraKim and I, strolling along a trail at “The Mountain” in 1999, had an argument about a rock, my spiritual understanding of trees, rivers, oceans, mountains, prairies, deserts, soil – and rocks – has deepened and widened. Rocks may not have a central nervous system, but they have a place in a vast and fluid harmony. The call to “protect the lives of minerals” draws from me a gentler motion of my life. It teaches me to walk with a lighter step, and in greater harmony. That spiritual growth would not have been possible if I had faced hunger every day.

Justice for the earth will require justice for her people.

* * *
Part 5 of 5 of "Earth Justice, People Justice"
Previous: Part 4: "The Beauty and the Tragedy"
Beginning: Part 1: "The Rock and the Mountain"


The Beauty and the Tragedy

How can a rock have rights? How can a rock have interests? How can it be harmed or benefitted? But remember: think bigger. Think of ecosystems without reducing them down to a small part. When our legal system thinks of corporations as having rights, it doesn’t reduce them down to copy machines and paper clips. It regards the whole system of the corporation.

A few years ago, Ecuador was in the process of recreating its constitution. Ecuador was facing a number of environmental challenges. Texaco, for example, had dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste water into Ecuadorian rainforest. The president of the constitutional assembly, Alberto Acosta, was the former minister of energy and mines: a position that would seemingly support corporate interests. Yet Acosta proclaimed that to his mind, the law treats nature as a slave with no rights of its own.

The new constitution changed that. In 2008, Ecuador become the first country with a constitution that recognizes that nature has rights. The Ecuador constitution says that ecosystems have the right
“to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.”
People seeking to defend ecosystems now have standing in Ecuador’s courts. That’s one piece of good news, I think, for Earth justice and also for people justice.

We need to understand that there are further complexities. We need to acknowledge that in the history of conservation, efforts have often come from wealthy who were perfectly willing to displace people for the sake preserving the pristine beauty of their recreation sites. When a move toward Earth justice leaves out people justice, it will fail both people and the Earth.

Even as we shift away from just human interests to recognize interests in nature itself, there is another necessary shift also beginning – back toward human interests whose needs must be taken account of if conservation is to stand a chance. In other words, we have seen a battle playing out between “nature as wealth resource” and “nature as spiritual grounding.” Since the early 19th century, more and more people have shifted to seeing nature is as a source of solitary spiritual renewal, as a place to escape modern life, enjoy solitude, and experience God.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous essay, “Nature,” declared:
"To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society.”
Our Unitarian forebears, the Transcendentalists, waxed rhapsodic about the spiritual qualities of the undeveloped woods and countryside. Nature was an idyllic, transcendence-enabling place – mostly for urban intellectuals.

I am a Transcendentalist, an Emerson fan, and, I guess you could say, an urban intellectual. And I do love those parks and wilderness areas. The best times LoraKim and I have ever had have been hiking about in public lands – parks and preserves. We have indeed found them to be transcendence-enabling places that both lift us up and ground us, that heal the fragmentation of modern life and make us whole.

There is tragedy that goes with that beauty, however.

The set-aside of wilderness areas has often involved resettling large numbers of people, too often without fair compensation for their lost homes, hunting grounds, and agricultural lands. According to the 2009 book, Conservation Refugees, by Mark Dowie, an investigative journalist now professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley:
"About half the land selected for protection by the global conservation establishment over the past century was either occupied or regularly used by indigenous peoples. In the Americas that number is over 80 percent." (Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples, 2009, p. 12.)
Estimates of the number of people displaced over the last century by conservation, Dowie reports, vary from five million to tens of millions. One Cornell University professor estimates that in Africa alone 14 million individuals have been displaced by conservation.

In 2004, the 200 delegates at the International Forum on Indigenous Mapping unanimously endorsed a declaration that:
"activities of conservation organizations now represent the single biggest threat to the integrity of indigenous lands." (qtd in Mark Dowie, Orion Magazine, 2005. Click here.)

* * *
Part 4 of 5 of "Earth Justice, People Justice"
Next: Part 5: "Justice in the Anthropocene"
Previous: Part 3: "When Does a Tree Stand Without Standing?"
Beginning: Part 1: "The Rock and The Mountain"


When Does a Tree Stand Without Standing?

Environmental protection based on the environment as property and commerce has lead to some weird results -- or at least some not-altogether-good-natured satirizing. For example, in applying these laws, the government developed a regulation called the “reasonable bird test" -- called, that is, not by the government, but by facetious commentators. The Clean Water Act of 1972 aims to protect waterways. The courts and regulatory agencies have had to wrestle with criteria for determining when a body of water is a “waterway” subject to protection under the Clean Water Act. The Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) articulated the Migratory Bird Rule (dubbed pejoratively the “reasonable bird test”): that protected waters include those:
"a. Which are or would be used as habitat by birds protected by Migratory Bird Treaties; or b. Which are or would be used as habitat by other migratory birds which cross state lines." (51 Fed. Reg. at 41217. [1986])
Crossing state lines brought migration under "interstate commerce." The conditional verb "would be used" apparently prompted critics to pretend that the condition to be satisfied was the birds' reasonableness, and that the government was essentially saying that if a reasonable bird flying between two states would likely land on the body of water, then that water was subject to protection. The ACE and the EPA used the rule for a number of years in determining which waterways to protect -- until the Supreme Court (Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. ACE [2001]), struck down the "reasonable bird test" (as critics called it), to the dismay of the environmentalist community.

A pair of perfectly reasonable sandhill cranes
As long as environmental protection is based on commerce, on seeing the environment as property, then we aren’t really protecting nature – we’re just coordinating its exploitation.

The Lorax says that he speaks for the trees, who have no tongues. If the Lorax, or you, or anyone, were to show up in court to speak for the trees, or the rivers, or the mountains, the first question is legal “standing.” Do you have standing to pursue the legal action? The court is prepared to consider damage to you – damage to your financial prospects, or to your health – from, say, pollution of a river. The court can see you and your interests, but doesn’t see the river itself. In a previous era, courts didn’t see slaves, or women.

Even if you manage to win, and damages are awarded, the damages will be awarded to you. The damages do not go to the river, because the river is not seen. The river is merely property. Just as damages to a woman used to go to the husband – to compensate him for the loss in value of his property -- or damages to a slave were compensated to the owner.

As long as environmental law regards nature as property and commerce, as long as such law merely coordinates the exploitation, then the justice system will not do justice to the Earth. People justice and Earth justice will be divorced and separated.

Take the case of Nottingham, New Hampshire. The people of that town wanted to protect their water. They wanted to prevent their water from being privatized – taken over as property for commerce and profit. They
“fought for seven years to stop USA Springs from coming in and privatizing their water. They appealed permits to the state department of environmental services, they circulated petitions, they lobbied their state legislature, the held protests, and they filed lawsuits. They did everything right -- through conventional environmental organizing -- but somehow they still weren’t winning." (Mari Margill, "Bioneers" radio podcast, "Earth Justice")
The state environmental agency is more interested in granting permits to companies than in protecting a public good. And that’s because the underlying basis of environmental protection isn’t the environment, it’s commerce. Conventional environmental organizing works within this assumption that nature is property and commerce, and thereby ultimately strengthens that assumption itself.

We need a new assumption. And it is beginning. A dozen municipalities now have passed local laws declared that ecosystems have rights in themselves – anyone can bring suit on behalf of the ecosystem, and the damages have to go back to restoring the ecosystem itself. That’s not radical – it’s an extension of basic concepts of representation – but it does take an explicit law to say that the interests of an ecosystem have standing in court.

That’s a shift that can seem rather jarring. Christopher Stone, back in 1972, published an article in the Southern California Law Review that became famous: “Should Trees have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects.” He wrote:
“The fact is that each time there is a movement to confer rights onto some new 'entity,' the proposal is bound to sound odd, or frightening, or laughable. This is partly because, until the rightless thing receives its rights, we cannot see it as anything but a thing for the use of “us” – those who are holding rights at the time. Such is the way the slave South looked upon the Black. There is something of a seamless web involved: there will be resistance to giving the thing 'rights' until it can be seen and valued for itself; yet it is hard to see it and value it for itself until we can bring ourselves to give it 'rights' -- which is almost inevitably going to sound inconceivable to a large group of people.”
Forty years after Christopher Stone wrote that article, legal rights for natural objects still sounds inconceivable to a large group of people -- but not quite as large as it was.

* * *
Part 3 of 5 of "Earth Justice, People Justice"
Next: Part 4: "The Beauty and the Tragedy"
Previous: Part 2: "Protecting the Life of Commerce"
Beginning: Part 1: "The Rock and the Mountain"


Protecting the Life of Commerce

A couple years after LoraKim and I had "the rock argument," I encountered Thich Nhat Hanh’s five mindfulness trainings. These are elaborations of the basic five precepts of Buddhism: (1) don’t kill; (2) don’t steal; (3) don’t have sex outside a committed relationship; (4) don’t lie; and, (5) don’t drink. Pretty generic commandments. Thich Nhat Hanh elaborates these five precepts into what he calls five mindfulness trainings. The first one, “do not kill," he expands into this:
“Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.”
Nice. I like the extension of “do not kill” to not letting others kill, and I like the attention to the roots from which the impulse to kill would come. I like that it goes beyond “do not kill,” to a positive requirement actively to protect life, and to learn how to do so effectively. And I understand protecting the lives of people, other animals, plants. But how does one protect the lives of minerals? What does that mean? "Protect the lives of minerals"?

I imagine that for some of this blog's readers, it is obvious how to protect the lives of minerals. For other readers, I would guess it is equally obvious that “protecting the lives of minerals” is a meaningless, self-contradictory concept.

Bear with me. Let’s approach this by thinking bigger than an individual rock. Let’s think of an overall ecosystem. An ecosystem has trees and animals, and also has dirt, rocks, rivers, clouds and rainfall – all interacting, and all necessary parts of a whole. If our legal system says that corporations are people (and it does); and if corporations have no flesh, no blood, no feelings, no heart, no relatives, and no conscience (and they don't); then is it such a stretch to say that ecosystems have rights? If human moral imagination can extend to corporations, then it can also extend to protection of the lives of ecosystems. Such protection includes ensuring that minerals -- soil and rocks and water and air -- are sufficiently plentiful, balanced, nutritive, unpolluted, and within the right temperature range to engender the ecosystem's health. The "life" of a mineral is the role it plays in the life of a vibrant ecosystem, so "protect the lives of minerals," means "preserve them in playing their vital function for ecosystems." Preserve their place in the order of things.

This way of thinking about ecosystems has not, however, been the basis of environmental protection efforts. Historically, we have thought of the environment as property. The history of environmental protection in this country is based on the idea that lakes, rivers, soil, mountains, oceans, and beaches are property, commodities, items of commerce. Congress’ authority to protect the environment and wildlife has its legal grounding in the interstate commerce clause of the constitution. That’s the basis of the Environmental Protection Agency when it was formed in 1970.

The standard dualism around conservation and environmental stewardship is that there are "the protectors" and "the exploiters." "The protectors" are represented by the Lorax, Captain Planet, Rachel Carson, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Environmental Protection Agency. "The exploiters" are the heads of business who turn resources into the wealth that I enjoy. Like many of us, I say "boo, hiss" to "the exploiters," but I go right on enjoying the cheap products they produce.

It turns out it's "the protectors" who have been basing environmental protection on the commerce clause. Waters and parks are worth protecting as property, as commerce – not intrinsically for their own sake. And that’s “the protectors”!

* * *
Part 2 of 5 of "Earth Justice, People Justice"
Next: Part 3: "When Does a Tree Stand Without Standing?"
Previous: Part 1: "The Rock and The Mountain"


The Rock and The Mountain

A rock – about like the one in the picture – features in one of the beloved stories of Universalist lore. It seems that back in the late-1700s, the great Universalist preacher John Murray was preaching the good news that a loving God would not condemn creatures of his own making to eternal damnation.
This was a controversial thing to say, and Rev. Murray aroused resistance and hostility.

One Sunday morning he was preaching when a stone came crashing through the window and landed at John Murray’s feet. He picked it up and said,
“This argument is solid and it is weighty. But it is not convincing, and it will not deter us from the truth.”
LoraKim and I once had a rock argument ourselves. In the summer of 1999, about 13 years ago, LoraKim and I were dating. This was almost a year before we got married. She was between her second and third year of divinity school, and I hadn’t started divinity school yet. I was a lay leader in our Nashville, Tennessee congregation as well as the regular preacher at a little Fellowship up the road in Clarksville, Tennessee.

That summer of ’99, I attended the week-long Leadership School at The Mountain. “The Mountain” (their website: click here), is a Unitarian Universalist retreat and learning center in the Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina, about a 5 or 6 hour drive from Nashville. I was learning about Unitarian Universalist history, and worship, and how not to panic if you were to wake up one morning and discover that you were on a church governing board.

The Mountain was a beautiful setting, out there, surrounded by the mountains and trees. Toward the end of the week, LoraKim dropped by The Mountain to visit for an afternoon on her way to visit her Mom in eastern North Carolina. I had some break time, so LoraKim and I went hiking about along the trails through the woods.

We got to talking in that earnest and deep way that graduate students in humanities fields are prone to do. We had a philosophical disagreement that day that came close to being a fight. We had what may have been our first fight, and we had it about a rock just like the one in the picture.

LoraKim was saying that legitimate care and concern extends to all things.

"Well, not all things. Not this rock," I said, picking up one about the size that might have crashed through the window of John Murray’s church. "It doesn’t have a central nervous system; it doesn’t feel."

Violence against a stuffed animal, she pointed out, enacts violence, cultivates violence in our hearts, and it does harm to us. We agreed about that. There’s harm to us, I agreed, one, from development of tendencies and habits which might then carry over to living creatures, and, two, there’s harm to ourselves and others from the loss of the value the stuffed animals has. But the stuffed animal in itself doesn’t feel harm. It might look like and remind us of something that can feel, but in itself, it’s like this rock.

"We have no way to assess the question of whether a rock is benefited or harmed by being cracked in two," I said.

"What we we have no way to assess," LoraKim said – snapped, almost -- "is how to draw a line where respect and caring stops."

To which I offered this carefully reasoned reply: “Harrumph.”

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Part 1 of 5 of "Earth Justice, People Justice"
Next: Part 2: "Protecting the Life of Commerce"


Saturdao 15

Dao De Jing, verse 10a

16 translations

1. James Legge:
When the intelligent and animal souls are held together in one embrace, they can be kept from separating.
When one gives undivided attention to the (vital) breath, and brings it to the utmost degree of pliancy,
he can become as a (tender) babe.
When he has cleansed away the most mysterious sights (of his imagination), he can become without a flaw.
In loving the people and ruling the state, cannot he proceed without any (purpose of) action?
2. Archie Bahm:
If you would retain a wholesome personality, must you not restrain your lower interests from dominating over your higher interests?
If you wish to live healthily, should you not breathe naturally, like a child, and not hold your breath until your vitality is nearly exhausted?
If you desire to realize the potentialities of your indescribably original nature, how can you insist that some selected aspect of your personality is really superior to that original nature?
If you are required to govern others, ought you not be able to guide them by example, rather than by forcing your will upon them?
3. Frank MacHovec:
Can you control your mind so that it never strays from the way of Tao?
Can you control you breathing so that it is soft and gentle like a new-born babe?
Can you purify yourself so that you are perfect? Can you love all the people, rule them, and remain unknown? And do so without interference?
4. D.C. Lau:
When carrying on your head your perplexed bodily soul
Can you embrace in your arms the One and not let go?
In concentrating your breath can you become as supple
As a babe?
Can you polish your mysterious mirror
And leave no blemish?
Can you love the people and govern the state
Without resorting to action?
5. Gia-Fu Feng:
Carrying body and soul and embracing the one,
Can you avoid separation?
Attending fully and becoming supple,
Can you be as a newborn babe?
Washing and cleansing the primal vision,
Can you be without stain?
Loving all men and ruling the country,
Can you be without cleverness?
6. Stan Rosenthal:
“Cleaning the Dark Mirror”
Maintaining unity is virtuous, for the inner world of thought is one with the external world of action and of things.
The sage avoids their separation, by breathing as the sleeping babe, and thus maintaining harmony.
He cleans the dark mirror of his mind, so that it reflects without intent.
He conducts himself without contriving, loving the people, and not interfering.
7. Jacob Trapp:
“Inward Mysterious Power”
Can you embrace and love this world,
And not forsake the Way of Heaven?
Can you make gentleness your strength, be strong yet tender like a child?
Can you so cleanse your vision
As to dwell among men without bias?
Can you be humbly receptive
Before the mystery of things?
Can you, in deeper understanding,
Renounce pride of intellect?
8. Stephen Mitchell:
Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?
Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child's?
Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?
Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?
9. Victor Mair
While you
Cultivate the soul and embrace unity,
can you keep them from separating?
Focus your vital breath until it is supremely soft,
can you be like a baby?
Cleanse the mirror of mysteries,
can you make it free of blemish?
Love the people and enliven the state,
can you do so without cunning?
10. Michael LaFargue:
When ‘carrying your soul,’ embracing the One Thing,
can you be undivided?
When ‘concentrating ch’i', bringing about Softness,
can you be like an infant?
When ‘cleansing and purifying the mysterious mirror,’
can you be without blemish?
When ‘loving the people and caring for the kingdom,’
can you be without knowledge?
11. Peter Merel:
Embracing the Way, you become embraced;
Breathing gently, you become newborn;
Clearing your mind, you become clear;
Nurturing your children, you become impartial;
12. Ursula LeGuin:
Can you keep your soul in its body,
hold fast to the one,
and so learn to be whole?
Can you center your energy,
be soft, tender
and so learn to be a baby?
Can you keep the deep water still and clear,
so it reflects without blurring?
Can you love people and run things,
and do so by not doing?
13. Ron Hogan:
Can you hold on to your ego
and still stay focused on Tao?
Can you relax your mind and body
and brace yourself for a new life?
Can you check yourself
and see past
what's in front of your eyes?
Can you be a leader
And not try to prove you’re in charge?
14. Ames and Hall:
In carrying about your more spiritual and more physical aspects and embracing their oneness,
Are you able to keep them from separating?
In concentrating your qi and making it pliant,
Are you able to become the newborn babe?
In scrubbing and cleansing your profound mirror,
Are you able to rid it of all imperfections?
In loving the common people and breathing life into the state,
Are you able to do it without recourse to wisdom?
15. Yasuhiko Genku Kimura:
In accordance with the Tao Eternal
Embrace your body and mind in onenenss without any diremption.
Enliven your vital energy until it reaches the suppleness of a baby.
Cleanse your mind to eliminate all unclarity.
Love your people and lead your community without unbalanced action.
16. Addiss and Lombardo:
Can you balance your life force
And embrace the One
Without separation?
Can you control your breath
Like a baby?
Can you clarify
Your dark vision
Without blemish?
Can you love people
And govern the country
Without knowledge?
* * * * * * *
Ames and Hall's "without recourse to wisdom" means "not inspired by some instrumental, enabling, 'tried and true' wisdom," but drawing instead upon "an immediate and fundamentally creative activity out of which fresh and efficacious intelligence arises to guide the way."

What stands out for me this week is Rosenthal's line: "clean the dark mirror of [your] mind, so that it reflects without intent" (where "without intent" would include also that meaning of "without recourse to wisdom"). The rest of this half-verse, and all 16 translations, are commentaries on that:

Clean the dark mirror of your mind so that it reflects without intent.

See: Saturdao Index


You Are Risen

Four gospels, four stories -- four variations on the winding path toward arising.

In the Mark story, you encounter your fear. The powers that be are coming after you. If you try to reconnect with the part of you that feels separated, you fear you will be punished for it. You simply run. You tell no one. Yes, that’s a true story; that’s one way the story truly does unfold.

In the John story, you go in solitude to see the empty tomb – and no frightening or reassuring guy in white or angel is there. You return from the tomb and speak to some trusted others. You speak with a confidant, a teacher, a spiritual guide, who goes with you back to the tomb, and then leaves you there alone again, crying. Then you turn around, and there it is. Right there in front you – the wholeness that is your birthright. Even then, you mistake it for the gardener. But it calls your name:
(or “Maria!” or “Jose!” “Arthur!” “Clarice!” “Chang!” “Laura!” "Ahmed!" whoever….)

Once I was in a one-on-one interview with a Zen teacher, and I was floundering with the koan he had given me. I see it this way, I see it that way, I was saying. He was looking at me decidedly unimpressed. Suddenly he interrupted my explanatory ramble with a shout:
I saw it then. Called to myself, the emptiness of the tomb vivid, the point of the koan was suddenly clear.

So the banished part of you calls your name, and in that moment it is realized. That's a true story.

The Easter story is that if you go and look, you will discover a possibility of new life, new connection with a part of you that you thought was dead.

In the Matthew story, you encounter enemies that discredit that story. They tell you that there is no new life for you discover. They have been bribed by their own needs for the comfort of the familiar status quo to say, “There is no transformation, there is no greater wholeness. Those parts of you that you need for wholeness were carried away in the night and will remain dead and gone from you.” But you know better. You have seen a new life that they cannot imagine. That’s a true story.

In the Luke story, it’s not your enemies but your friends. You go to speak to them about the discovery – this frightening yet promising new reality you have discovered. And they don’t believe you. Liberation? Wholeness? It is an idle tale, they think. And it’s OK that they think that. They have to see for themselves, as you have to see for yourself. You can’t take anybody’s word for it. That, too, is a true story.

You stand in the meadow, between the Golgotha hill of crucifixion and the cave of the tomb. You stand in that open field of transition, on the verge of discovery that the tomb of what you thought was dead in you is empty.

What’s the meadow for? What’s the metaphor? It is that open space from which you can step toward new life and new wholeness.

Happy Easter.

You are risen.


* * * * *
Part 6 of "What's the Meadow For?"
Previous: Part 5: "Go and Look"
Beginning: Part 1: "Easter Stories"


Go and Look

What part of you seemingly has died and is laid in a tomb?

An Australian nurse, Bonnie Ware, worked in palliative care for several years, caring for patients in the final months of their lives. She has written about what she learned from those patients, and the phenomenal clarity many people gain at the end of their lives. When she asked them if they had any regrets or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Five such themes were most common. (See Guardian article  here; Bonnie Ware's blog post is here.)

Most commonly, they say, “I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Second, almost all the men and many of the women said, “I wish I hadn't worked so hard.”

Third, “I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.”
"Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result."
Fourth, “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”

Fifth, “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”
"Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."
So I ask again, what part of you seems laid in the tomb? What heart’s yearning is nailed to a cross of familiarity? What longing for wholeness and connection has withered away in public view? What is the passion story of your passion? Go and look.

Of course, you will think, “my god, there’s no way I can roll back that stone.” Go and look.

Go by yourself in the predawn dark.
Go with a single friend.
Go with two friends.
Go with a group of supportive presences as the day dawns and the sunlight begins.
Just go.
When you get there, you will see
the stone obstacle you feared is rolled back.

So look inside.
Peer into the darkness of your interior.
It’s empty.

The part of you that you long for,
the part you thought was dead,
is not there in that place where dead things lie.

You cannot take my word for this.
You cannot know it until you go and look for yourself.
Be still and quiet and look.

Easter morning is a metaphor for every morning.
Every morning, take some time to be still and quiet and look.
Notice every part of you. They’re all still there, still alive.
Start each day with the first-hand experience that the tomb is empty.
The you that you long for is not sealed up in there.

So where is it?

* * * * *
Part 5 of "What's the Meadow For?"
Next: Part 6: "You Are Risen"
Previous: Part 4: "John's Easter Story. And Yours."
Beginning: Part 1: "Easter Stories"


John's Easter Story. And Yours.

We've reviewed the Easter story in Mark and Matthew (two days ago) and in Luke (yesterday). Today we look at the Easter story in "The Gospel According to John." Mary Magdelene traveled to the tomb with two other women (Mark), with one other woman (Matthew), or with a group of at least four (Luke). In John, she comes alone. And she comes, not when the sun was up (Mark), or at dawn (Matthew, Luke), but in the pre-dawn darkness. As in Mark and Luke, she arrives to find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. This time there’s no guy in white, or two guys in white, or an angel. Nobody. And no body.

Mary goes back and reports to Simon Peter and another disciple:
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (20: 2)
Mary and the two disciples go back to the tomb and see nothing but
“the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head . . . rolled up in a place by itself.” (20: 6)
Then Simon Peter and the other disciple leave.
“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying.” (20: 11-12)
The angels ask, “Why are you weeping?” Mary answers that “They have taken my Lord, I don’t know where.” Then she turns around and sees Jesus, but doesn’t recognize him:
“’Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?’
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’
Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father.”’” (20: 15-17)
Later that evening, Jesus appears to the other disciples:
"Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.’ . . . He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (20: 19-22)
Jesus shows up again a week later where the disciples are gathered:
“Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you,’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” (20: 26-27)
The John story has a surreal, dreamlike quality quite different from the other three. In the surreal logic of John, bodies reanimate, yet wounds remain unhealed. Apparitions say, “Peace be with you.” The ghostly Jesus asks not to be touched, then convinces “doubting Thomas” by letting him touch the wounds. It is a dreamlike realm, unconcerned with persecution from worldly powers.

The resurrection is about you. Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John give four different stories: four metaphors for what each of us encounters. In these metaphors, Mary Magdalene is you. Jesus is also you. Jesus is the part of you that you thought was dead. You mourn its loss. But these stories are here to tell you: it’s not dead.

It’s not dead.

Easter is the time for soul-searching. Go, as Mary, and look. Look to find your self.

What part of you seemingly has died and is laid in a tomb? Go and look.

Are you stuck in a deadening job? Does it seem that the part of you that yearns for creative, rewarding contribution to the world lies dead? Go and look.

Are you stuck in a dysfunctional relationship? The part of you that would dance in celebration of love and connection and intimate play seems like a cold and motionless corpse? Go and look.

What part of you has been persecuted, battered, humiliated? What part of you with its dying words asked, “Why have you forsaken me?” Arise on the morning of a new day, and go and look.

* * * * *
Part 4 of "What's the Meadow For?"
Next: Part 5: "Go and Look"
Previous: Part 3: "Luke Easter Story"
Beginning: Part 1: "Easter Stories"