Friday, November 25, 2005

The Ideosphere and Change

The Spring/Summer 2005 issue of Kosmos featured an article by Yasuhiko Genku Kimura called "Kosmic Alignment." I want to present and discuss a few of his ideas.
[T]he prime mover of the world is not technology per se but idea. Technology is only an artifact of idea, the prime mover, but not the prime mover itself. Idea, and idea alone, moves the world. This means that we can move the world with our own thinking through the generation and propagation of ideas. The problem, however, is that the majority of humanity remains the consumer of ideas without being the producer.


For the locus of thinking is within the individual. It is not the collective but the individual composing the collective that alone can think and generate ideas. The ideospheric transformation of the kind I speak is a synergetic phenomenon that emerges when individuals in sufficient numbers become authentic, independent thinkers, that is, originators of ideas, producers of dialogues, and contributors to the network of conversations that comprises the world.


In following the evolutionary thrust for optimization that is driving our collective transformation toward an unprecedented height of culture and civilization, the ideospheric configuration we require for the 21st century is omnicentric, having independent yet interconnected centers within the intellectually and spiritually sovereign individuals, living and working as self-authorities in the matter of thinking, knowing, and acting. Then, the thinking, knowing, and acting of these authentic individuals will synergetically co-develop throughout the omnicentric configuration of the evolving ideosphere. The Information Revolution that is underway with the omnipresent Internet is simultaneously the manifestation of, and the apparatus for, this new omnicentric configuration of the ideosphere.

There is more to the article than these small quotes, but this series of ideas felt important enough to think about more fully.

First, a complaint. Kimura writes as though he is proposing intellectual theory, when in reality he is proposing a "call to arms." He is challenging us to become the vehicles for cultural transformation rather than waiting for it to happen around us. He is also challenging us to "be the change we want to see in the world," to paraphrase Gandhi, and that is not an intellectual endeavor--it is a matter of human connections.

I want thinkers like Kimura to write in such a way that we can become passionate about the message, about change, about taking a place among the movers and shakers with a vision for a better world.

That being said, there is a lot to like about Kimura's vision. If we each can become the producer of ideas and find ways to get them into the world (like blogging), we each can make a contribution to global evolution. However, we can't all be producers--someone has to consume what we produce. Therefore, it falls to those of us who have a vision, or who are already working toward change either individually or collectively, to be leaders.

So far, so good--until someone with power and tools and really bad ideas decides to change the world to conform to his/her vision (think Bush/Cheney, or James Dobson, or Hitler). What Kimura doesn't discuss is how the "bad" ideas can be weeded out from the "good" ideas. This is clearly necessary and involves a degree of moral development that we can all agree is worldcentric. Yet, how do we prevent egocentric people with power and a bad idea from changing the world to match their vision? Tough questions that may require tough answers.

Here is Kimura's answer to the question:
The act of idea-generation through authentic thinking and the sustained engagement in the conversation of humankind, if conducted in the context of pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness, will lead to powerful moral action that will engender a New World.

This functions well as a general idea, but not as a useful limit to power. This is where I get politically incorrect: not all ideas are created equal, as Kimura clearly suggests. There needs to be some form of check on bad ideas, unevolved ideas, or ideas that can cause harm, pain, or suffering. Perhaps a free market, a kind of capitalism of ideas, is the best solution. If one looks at the internet, it becomes apparent that people choose valuable ideas by frequently visiting their creators (think blogs and web magazines, not porn). So the internet is a good example of how bad ideas can disappear over time.

Yet, people live at different developmental levels with different worldviews. A Buddhist, such as myself, will have nothing in common with someone who frequently visits Christian family sites, or conservative blogs, or porn. But we each think that our worldview is valid, and there are likely to be a lot of other people who share that view.

I think the differences are fine. They support Kimura's suggestion that the internet is one of the variations on his omnicentric (as opposed to concentric) ideosphere. Many of us are here for that very reason. This is a free-flowing marketplace of ideas without a clear center--in fact, there are many centers or hubs where the biggest ideas are generated.

This is how we will change the world. Kimura suggest that individual transformation is based on collective transformation. I think it is the opposite, but I am a Buddhist. Real change happens when individuals evolve and want to make a difference in the world through volunteering, creating a new business or service, or simply changing from a job that reduces freedoms, choices, or resources to one that expands freedoms, choices, or resources.

True change starts with the individual--with each of you who are reading these words. It can be very simple (the "butterfly effect"): commit a random act of kindness, give an unexpected compliment, extend yourself to someone who might need you.

These are ideas made tangible. Expand on them. Make your life about creating opportunities for compassion. If you can figure how to make a living doing that, then do it. I became a personal trainer to help people. It turns out that it isn't my knowledge of diet and exercise that creates the most change, it's my compassion--it's listening without judgment, it's empathy, it's supporting my clients to make changes in who they are, not simply how they eat.

We can do this in our families, among our friends, with strangers. This is an idea that can change the world; one act of kindness or compassion each day. How hard is that? It won't be apparent to us in our lifetimes. We may never see the benefit of our actions. We must simply trust that if we extend ourselves to other people, they will extend themselves to others, and it will become a chain reaction.

Believe in the power of your ideas and change the world.

Nepalese Boy Thought to be Reincarnation of Buddha

I have resisted posting on this story for a while, but it seems to be gaining traction in the media. Yahoo News (via the AP) ran the story on Wednesday.

I'm skeptical, to say the least. However, there must be a distinction made between the boy's possible spiritual enlightenment and the mythology that has sprung up around him. He may be a reincarnated Buddha, or he may be a boy with an intense desire to seek enlightenment.

All that individual-interior stuff aside, he is not surviving for 6 months without food or water--the individual-exterior doesn't get to live outside the natural laws.

At this point, all we have are local reports. We need an independent observer to test his claims and those of the people around him.
KATMANDU, Nepal - A teenage boy has been meditating in a Nepalese jungle for six months, and thousands have flocked to see him, with some believing he is the reincarnation of Buddha, police and media said Wednesday.

Ram Bahadur Banjan, 15, sits cross-legged and motionless with eyes closed among the roots of a tree in the jungle of Bara, about 100 miles south of the capital, Katmandu.

He's supposedly been that way since May 17 — but his followers have been keeping him from public view at night.

A reporter for the Kantipur newspaper, Sujit Mahat, said he spent two days at the site, and that about 10,000 people are believed to visit daily.

Soldiers have been posted in the area for crowd control, officials said.

A makeshift parking lot and cluster of food stalls have sprung up near Banjan's retreat, an area not previously frequented by visitors.

Many visitors believe Banjan is a reincarnation of Gautama Siddhartha, who was born not far away in southwestern Nepal around 500 B.C. and later became revered as the Buddha, which means Enlightened One.

Others aren't so sure.

Police inspector Chitra Bahadur Gurung said officers have interviewed the boy's associates about their claim that Banjan has gone six months without food or drink.

Officers have not directly questioned the boy, who appears deep in meditation and doesn't speak.

"We have a team ... investigating the claim on how anyone can survive for so long without food and water," Gurung said.

Local officials have also asked the Royal Nepal Academy of Science and Technology in Katmandu to send scientists to examine Banjan.

Mahat said visitors can catch a glimpse of Banjan from a roped-off area about 80 feet away from him between dawn and dusk.

Followers then place a screen in front of him, blocking the view and making it impossible to know what he is doing at night, Mahat said.

"We could not say what happens after dark," Mahat said. "People only saw what went on in the day, and many believed he was some kind of god."

Buddhism teaches that right thinking and self-control can enable people to achieve nirvana — a divine state of peace and release from desire. Buddhism has about 325 million followers, mostly in Asia.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Houston Smith Interview on Beliefnet

Beliefnet has an interview with Houston Smith, the greatest living historian of religion. Smith is not one of the academic types who simply studies a religion. While affirming Christianity as his home base, Smith has immersed himself in several of the world's great religious traditions. His The World's Religions and The Forgotten Truth are classics in the comparative religion field.

Monday, November 21, 2005

U2's Bono Uses Fame to Create Change

CBS's 60 Minutes did a profile of U2 last night, with a focus on Bono and his political activities. U2 has always been a socially outspoken band, whether they are singing about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the genocide in Bosnia, or the religious warfare in their Irish homeland. Offstage, however, Bono in particular walks the talk in his songs.

Bono has worked to provide AIDS drugs for dying people in Africa. He has lobbied the richest countries on the planet to forgive the crushing debt owed by the poorest nations.
Bono’s passions are shared and supported by the band, drummer Larry Mullen, Jr., bassist Adam Clayton and the guitarist who calls himself “The Edge.”

“I think early on the heroes that we had were people like Bob Marley, John Lennon, The Clash,” says The Edge. “And those bands all had the same combination of rock 'n roll, the rage, railing against injustice. And the politics. We connected with that in a major way.”

With albums such as Boy, October, War, and A Blood Red Sky, U2 established itself in America as a socially conscious band that makes incredible music. With 1987's The Joshua Tree (perhaps one of the greatest albums ever recorded), U2 established themselves as the biggest band on the planet. The band has held that title ever since, continuing year after year to produce infectious music that carries deep meaning.

As much attention as Bono gets for his social activism, he still feels himself to be a musician first and foremost. Here are some of the lyrics from "I Still Haven't Found What I Am Looking For."

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
It burned like fire
This burning desire

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
Well yes I'm still running

You broke the bonds and you
Loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believed it

There is a definite Christian flavor to Bono's vision, but it is not traditional Christianity. Rather, Bono seeks a vision in which the spirit of Jesus Christ--the rebel who spent his time with the outcast and poor, not with the wealthy--is manifest in the lives and actions of people. It is a vision that acknowledges differences and suffering, but it also seeks the freedom, both physical and spiritual, of all people.

Beautiful Day:
Touch me, take me to that other place
Teach me love, I know I'm not a hopeless case

See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by a cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
And, see the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colours came out
(Day) Down
(Day) Day

It was a beautiful day / (Day) Down
Don't let it get away / (Day) Day
Beautiful day / (Day) Down, (Day) Down

Still, it is in the political realm where Bono's understanding of human nature--what Spiral Dynamics might see as a second-tier knowledge--becomes so apparent. Bono was angry that the Christian right in America had done so little to address the AIDS crisis in Africa, so this liberal rock star approached them, and rather than giving them some bleeding heart speech, he spoke to them in their language, in terms they could understand and respond to.
How does he get support for his projects? “It was probably that it would be really wrong beating a sort of left-wing drum, taking the usual bleeding-heart-liberal line,” says Bono.

Instead, he enlisted the ruling right of American politics. “Particularly conservative Christians, I was very angry that they were not involved more in the AIDS emergency. I was saying, ‘this is the leprosy that we read about in the New Testament, you know. Christ hung out with the lepers. But you're ignoring the AIDS emergency,” says Bono. “How can you? And, you know, they said, ‘Well, you're right, actually. We have been. And we're sorry. We'll get involved.’ And they did.”

The ability to successfully gauge the worldview and meaning-structure of an audience and speak to them in such a way that they can be convinced to do something they had been hesitant to do is indicative of an integral worldview. A person at this level is not so fully attached to his/her own worldview that it is impossible to see into another. Bono has this gift.

Stuart Davis recently expressed his feeling that U2 shows the greatest depth (meaning in their music) and span (range of influence) of any band in music today. I quibbled with that a bit, but I'd have to agree with him after seeing this interview.

Bono's music can move me to tears in ways few other musicians can (Peter Gabriel and Human Drama also can). He often seeks the best in human beings through his music, even when expressing his pain at what he sees around him.


Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus?
To the lepers in your head

Did I ask too much, more than a lot?
You gave me nothing, now it's all I got
We're one, but we're not the same
Well we hurt each other
Then we do it again

You say
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love the higher law
You ask me to enter
Well then you make me crawl
And I can't be holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt

One love
One blood
One life
You got to do what you should
One life
With each other
One life
But we're not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Sunday Poem: Adrienne Rich

Diving into the Wreck

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
and absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it's a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he
whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

Adrienne Rich has been a leading figure in American poetry since winning the prestigious Yale Younger Poets award for her first book in 1951. Since then, she has published book after book of deeply personal and socially relevant poetry. While often claimed by the "women's movement" as one of their leading voices due to Rich's openness about being a lesbian and her activism for women's rights, Rich transcends any single puropse to her life and work. She is first and foremost an American poet.

Rich won the National Book Award in 1974 for Diving into the Wreck (which she accepted jointly with Alice Walker and Audre Lorde in the name of all women who are silenced). She has also been awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships, the first Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Brandeis Creative Arts Medal, the Common Wealth Award, the William Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the National Poetry Association Award for Distinguished Service to the Art of Poetry.

I was a young man in college when I first read this poem in an Introduction to Literature class taught by professor James Dean (to whom I am forever indebted). In that class he us taught that literature offers a path into the deeper realms of human experience, and he encouraged us to explore those realms within the works we studied and within ourselves. Nearly everything we read for those three quarters moved us further into the interior of what it means to be human.

I was a psychology major when I took those classes, and this poem spoke to me about the process of Jungian myth work, of which I was enamored at the time. I saw in Adrienne Rich's poem a revisioning of the hero myth, a feminization of the hero's quest. There is no dragon to slay, no kingdom to save. There is only the Self and its quest for wholeness. This is the central, most powerful myth underlying modern psychology: that through introspection, self-awareness, and understanding we can gather the riches of our innate humanity.

This poem provided me with the template for my own efforts as a poet. I dedicated myself to the exploration of the wreck that lies in the depths of my psyche, to the exploration of "the wreck and not the story of the wreck."

A few years after first reading this poem, I immersed myself in the alchemical psychology of Jung and became especially interested in the idea of the alchemical wedding--the union of masculine and feminine elements in the psyche that can provide a new sense of wholeness and balance. Rich is working with the same theme here, being both mermaid and merman: "I am she: I am he." Yet it is only after entering the hold of the wreck, the symbolic container of the alchemical process, that the poet recognizes the unification of her duality and can proclaim, "We are."

For other critical assessments of the poem, click here.