Sunday, May 13, 2007

Shedding Light On the Atman


By Todd F. Reinhard

When discussing ultimate spiritual topics, it is necessary to keep in mind at all times that words and concepts do not suffice. Any attempt we make to describe the transcendental is ultimately futile, for the boundless cannot be encapsulated within a concept, a word, a name, or a form. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that human beings from time immemorial have attempted to wrap their minds around and to articulate the nature of some “thing” beyond their human natures—some “thing” that transcends the psycho-physical entity which they regard as “themselves”. This vain striving to capture the “truth”, to make the infinite finite, is a reflection of our spiritual nature. Indeed, we can label this quest for ultimate knowledge as “science”, or we can call it “religion”, but regardless of what we call it, it is spiritual. Some may argue that it is not a spiritual quality, but rather an intellectual quality of humanity that compels one to verbally describe ultimate principles. This is a typical Western philosophical stance, since it is common for the Westerner to equate the “soul”, or transcendental entity or principle, with the “mind”. (It is of interest to note that the word “Psychology”, which has been defined in the West as the “Study of Mind”, literally means “Study of the Soul”; this indicates that the mind and soul are perceived as one in the same in the West.) The Indian Vedantin, however, with razor-sharp intellect, vehemently denies that the mind is the transcendental principle; for him, the mind is but a gross entity emanating from and controlled by subtler and subtler entities—the most subtle of all being the Atman, the TRUE SELF, the WITNESS (Sakshi).
According to the Advaitist Vedantin, the true spiritual aspirant must eventually become intimately familiar with the workings of his “inner equipment”. He must first hear of it, then rigorously contemplate upon it, and then, through meditation, use the equipment to overcome the equipment. This is the science of Vrtti Jnana, or “Ripple (Emanation) Knowledge”. To understand this science, one must first understand that the Atman is regarded as Absolute; it is timeless, spaceless, causeless, changeless, and infinite; it is the Sakshi, or “Witness”. It is Pure Consciousness. It is the substratum for all phenomenal motion and action, whether physical or psychological. The phenomenal motions and actions themselves are referred to as “vrttis”, or “ripples”. All of these ripples emanate from the Sakshi, the most subtle of all subtleties. The Antahkarana is likened to a ray that consists of four aspects, which emerge when the Sakshi (Atman) expresses: 1) Ahamkara (the ego), 2) Chitta (roughly translated as the “subconscious”), 3) Buddhi (the intellect), and 4) Manas (the mind). It is more useful to think of these aspects in terms of their functions than in terms of distinct entities, for in truth, there is no independent substance to any of them. They arise together and coexist in the phenomenal internal world, so to speak. Nevertheless, for the sake of communication, we will speak of them as if they are independent and arise sequentially.
The ahamkara is the first aspect of the Antahkarana to emerge when the Sakshi (Atman) expresses. It is the subtle “limited I-consciousness” and functions in two ways: 1) by Avarana, it veils the Sakshi from which it has emerged, and 2) by Vikshepa, it projects as something different from itself, expressing as cause (karana) and effect (karya), or subject and object. Because of the ahamkara, during waking consciousness (jagrati-sthata), we identify ourselves with our limited body and minds and perceive a phenomenal universe of multiplicity. During deep sleep (sushupti), vikshepa ceases, but the avarana persists. The karya (effect) withdraws back into the karana (cause), the object back into the subject. The ultimate “goal” of the practitioner is to get behind this deceitful ahamkara and merge with the Sakshi, the Real Self, the Real “I”.
The Chitta is less subtle than the Ahamkara and is responsible for remembering and forgetting. The forgetting process is called “Apohana”, and the process of recollection is called “Smrti”. The Chitta receives knowledge from the Buddhi (to be discussed next) and stores it. The process of forgetting (apohana) is actually the taking of knowledge from the front of consciousness and placing it in the background. Remembrance (smrti) occurs when the information is taken from the background and given back to the forefront.
The Buddhi is less subtle than either the Chitta or Ahamkara and is responsible for making decisions and directing the Manas, the grossest aspect of the Antahkarana. In short, the Manas works in conjunction with the five sense organs (jnanendriya)—the eyes, ears, nose, skin, and tongue—and serves as a plate upon which the impressions gathered by the jnanendriya are imprinted. The Manas goes forth, as it were, collects the impressions from the jnanendriya, sorts, and changes them into concepts. The Manas then hands these concepts over to the Buddhi, which subsequently rejects most of them. The concepts that the Buddhi keeps comprise our knowledge. As already mentioned, the Buddhi then, through the process of apohana, puts the knowledge into the background of consciousness.
The Antahkarana can operate in two modes: 1) by the process of abhijna, it can look outside and obtain external knowledge. This process involves the gross coming out of the subtle, such as described above, where the Manas evolves from the Ahamkara. 2) by the process of pratyabhijna, it can turn inward and obtain Self knowledge. This process involves the gross going back to the subtle, where the Manas involves to the Ahamkara and ultimately to the Sakshi, the Atman.
As pointed out above, the purpose of Vrtti Jnana is to realize the Sakshi (i.e. merge with the Witness), and this realization demands Mano Nasa, the killing of the mind. (Here, the “mind” aspect is synonymous with the Antahkarana gestalt.) However, the process of killing that mind requires the concentrated use of that very mind—that is, the mind kills itself. When that is accomplished, Pure Consciousness alone exists, beyond all of the concepts, ripples, Vrttis just described. The method is to merge all objects (the gross vrtiis) back into the absolute subject, the Witness—that is, Pure Consciousness. To do this, one must first make use of the Buddhi Vrtti to fully digest and assimilate the material expounded here. She must then make use of the Chitta Vrtti to REMEMBER. Once the Sakshi is located, all Vrttis dissolve into it. With that, comes the experience of “Neti Neti”…”Not this, Not this”.

Advaita Vedanta: As It Exists


By Todd F. Reinhard

“Ontology”, a familiar word in philosophy circles, refers to the study of existence. Indeed, Ontology, along with its kindred disciplines, Epistemology and Axiology—the study of knowledge and the study of ethics, respectively—comprise the very fabric of Philosophy. Ontology, the topic of the current discussion, is that discipline that demands an answer to the questions “What does it mean for something to Exist…for something to Be?” The philosophical sloth responds with some questions of his own: “Why should I bother with such a ridiculous question? Isn’t existence self-evident?” In turn, the Advaitin Vedantin replies resoundingly, “Well, yes…and no….”
The Indian philosophy of Advaita Vedanta is that branch of Vedanta that posits “non-duality” as the basis of reality and was popularized and expounded by Shamkara (ca. 788-820). (To be sure, there have been many Advaitists since Shamkara who have made significant contributions and amendments to Advaita Vedanta, and Shamkara himself was not the first to suggest the notion of “non-duality”; however, his teachings are usually regarded as the most clear and thorough.) Hence, the present essay is centered on Shamkara’s teachings.
So, introduction aside, let us return to the question of interest “What does it mean for something to exist?” Another way of phrasing the question—perhaps a more riveting way—is “What is Real? What is True?” In order to do full justice to these questions, the Advaitist considers three “Levels of Being” **, namely, 1) Reality (Paramarthika), 2) Appearance, and 3) Unreality. To distinguish the three levels, it is necessary to understand the notion of “badha”, which is usually translated as “contradiction”, “cancellation”, or “sublation”. In short, “badha”, or “sublation”, refers to a radical change in the value one mentally assigns to a content of consciousness because a new experience has contradicted her previously held beliefs about that content. It is a psychological process whereby one rectifies erroneous judgments in light of new experience and subsequently attaches belief to that new experience. Although the change in belief is radical, it must be emphasized that intellectual and ethical reasons accompany the rejection-replacement action. According to Shamkara, this process of sublation serves as a criterion for distinguishing between the various levels and sublevels of being. In effect, the more something can be sublated or contradicted, the less “reality” or “being” it possesses. Likewise, the more “reality” something possesses, the less it is susceptible to contradiction or sublation.
So, what is Ultimately Real for the Advaitist? That experience is Ultimately Real, which can never be contradicted by other experience; that experience is none other than Brahman—the experience of complete transcendental identity. Brahman is an experience that is utterly indescribable and boundless, for it exists beyond the limitations of mind, word, and concept. Nevertheless, many make efforts (no matter how futile they may be) to describe Brahman and commonly refer to It as “Sat-Chit-Ananda”, meaning roughly “Infinite Existence, Infinite Knowledge, Infinite Bliss”. Still others describe Brahman via negativa as “neti neti”, “not this, not this”. THIS is Brahman, and THIS ALONE is REAL for the Advaitist. Shamkara refers to this Ultimate Reality as “Paramarthika”.
The second Level of Being is called “Appearance”, which can be usefully broken down into three sublevels, namely, 1) the “Real Existent”, 2) the “Existent”, and 3) the “Illusory Existent”. The “Real Existent” and the “Existent” are broken down still further among “existential relations”, among “particular objects”, and among “concepts”. “Existential relations” within the domain of the “Real Existent” refer to those relationships that involve love and theistic religious experiences. These experiences are infused with feelings of high devotion and selflessness. Nevertheless, since they involve consciousness of separation, they can be sublated by the overarching Reality of Brahman (Paramarthika). “Particular objects” as a sublevel of the “Real Existent” refers to those objects which participate in Reality yet retain an individuality of their own. Works of art, music, poetry and other creative expressions find themselves in this category. These contents of consciousness can only be subordinated by Ultimate Reality. “Concepts” that occupy the “Real Existent” refer to logical relationships, such as the law of contradiction, that are necessary in organizing propositional truths and statements of fact. Such concepts can only be sublated by the Ultimate Reality, which transcends the very mind that relies upon them.
We now come to the sublevel of Being that constitutes our “normal, day-to-day experience”. This level was termed by Shamkara as “Vyavaharika” and refers to all experiences that can be sublated by “Reality” (Paramarthika) as well as by their own counterparts that exist within the “Real Existent”. (For example, among “existential relations”, love and religious theistic devotion are “more real” than conventional relations that exist at the level of the “Existent”.) Among “existential relations” relegated to the domain of the “Existent” (Vyavaharika) we have those relationships that are strictly formal or conventional—lacking in any significant feeling of unity or devotion. Within these relationships, we identify ourselves with our body and mind, completely distinct from others. Among “particular objects”, likewise, we perceive them as multiple, differentiated, and separate. We do not experience their participation in reality; they are mere objects of perception. “Concepts”, within the “Existent” realm refers to those logical relations that function only in restricted systems, such as mathematics, logic, geometry, etc. Unlike the “concepts” that belong to the realm of the “Real Existent”, such as the law of contradiction, there is no universal necessity attached; the “Existent” concepts function solely as analytic statements.
The final category that falls under the main heading of “Appearance” we will label the “Illusory Existent”, which Shamkara called “Pratibhasika”. This is the set of experience that contains dreams, hallucinations, fancies, and the like. These experiences in themselves lack empirical truth, but nevertheless point to an empirical reality. For example, one may dream of a snake. Later, she awakens and discovers that there is no empirically real snake. Yet that snake did exist within the context of the dream, and it pointed to something that does have an objective reality in the empirical world—somewhere. The content of the dream or hallucination, by and large, is dependent upon the content of empirical reality. As one might expect, “Reality”, the “Real Existent”, and the “Existent” can sublate all experience that falls under the heading of the “Illusory Existent”.
The third and final Level of Being is labeled “Unreality”. “Unreality” is that which cannot manifest as a datum of experience simply because it is a blatant self-contradiction—a logical impossibility. For example, a “square circle” or a “dark light” cannot possibly exist. The “Unreal” points to nothing and is incapable of concrete emergence. In brief, “Unreality” is “non-being” and therefore, “non-existent”--It neither can nor cannot be sublated.
A salient feature of these three Levels of Being is that it is impossible to establish causal relations among them; in fact, it is this complete lack of causal relationship that defines them as distinct “levels” in the first place. However, the curious fact remains that, from the level of “Ultimate Reality”, (Paramarthika), there can be no distinct levels at all, for “levels”, as finite concepts, exist only in the mind! Hence, we necessarily arrive at the conclusion that Advaitist philosophy itself exists only in the realm of “Appearance”, which is always tainted by Maya, a product of ignorance (avidya) and superimposition (adhyasa). (The Indian concept of Maya is a rich topic and is outside the scope of the current discussion. For now, it suffices to understand Maya as a metaphysical power of Brahman that brings about the world of multiplicity (that is, the “Level of Appearance”). Like Brahman—but for different reasons-- it is beginningless (anadi), unthinkable (acintya), and indescribable (anirvacaniya). Epistemologically, it is the power that veils and perverts “Ultimate Reality”.)
A final worthy ontological note is that Shamkara, unlike several of his successors in later Vedanta, did not believe in “subjective idealism”—the doctrine that the contents of empirical consciousness can be fully accounted for in terms of consciousness activity. In other words, Shamkara did not support the notion that the objects of experience can be reduced in toto to the perceptive subject. Hence, Shamkara is a kind of “soft realist”. He stated emphatically, “An object is perceived by an act of the subject. The object is one thing, and the subject another.” (Those who are familiar with the Buddhist school of Vijnanavada and Prakasanda’s doctrine of “Emergence is Perception”, which is espoused throughout Valmiki’s Yoga Vasistha, should note that these “subjective idealist” systems of thought are incompatible with Shamkara’s bent toward “realism”.)
In closing, it should be underlined that, contrary to what many believe, Advaita Vedanta does not deny the existence of the world. For the Advaitist, the world does exist, for it is a content of experience, and as such, it must exist. As we have seen, the world is neither “Real” nor “Unreal”—it is “Apparent”. Only from the standpoint of the transcendental Absolute can one justifiably refer to the world as “illusion”. Before that level has been experienced, however, it is foolhardy to deny the existence of the world…and once that level is reached, all philosophical, empirical, relative, conceptual systems will dissolve and be transcended.

* For a more thorough discussion on the Levels of Being, please consult Advaita Vedanta, A Philosophical Reconstruction, written by Eliot Deutsch, from which most of the above information was obtained.

** A “Conceptual Spool” for the above discussion:


I Reality (Paramarthika)— transcendental experience of pure spiritual unity; it cannot be contradicted

II Appearance

1. “Real Existent”
A. among “existential relations”—love, theistic religious experience
B. among “particular objects”—works of art, music, poetry; they participate in reality
C. among “concepts”—necessary, indispensable; e.g. law of contradiction

2. “Existent” (Vyavaharika)
A. among “existential relations”—conventional, formal relationships
B. among “particular objects”—any object that is perceived as an independent entity; no participation in reality
C. among “concepts”—logical relations employed in a formal logistic system

3. “Illusory Existent” (Pratibhasika)—dreams, hallucinations, fancies

III Unreality—self-contradictory in nature; e.g. a “square circle”; it cannot appear as a datum of experience

Thursday, June 01, 2006


                            HIS HOLINESS APPRAISED

     I am not a typical American man.  My day begins about 4:45 AM when I click on the Hair Metal station on Radio AOL to pump some life into my boxing workout—a fast-paced workout (well, actually it isn’t as fast-paced as it was a few year ago!  Alas…I am past my prime…), which I top off with a grueling one mile uphill run.  Upon reaching the peak of the hill, gushing sweat and gasping for air, I slowly return to a more normal physiological state (that is, a state that hedges between wired and exhausted) as I jog back around the block to my one bedroom apartment, which continues to blare out the nostalgic tones, riffs, and grooves of the eighties’ head bangers.  I then run my dog out for a quick jaunt to do what dogs need to do, and I return yet again to squeeze in some sets of “cleans and presses” and “axe swings” while I prepare for work.  Finally, I shove my thermos of green tea and a book into my travel bag, tell my dog to have a great day while I’m gone (I used to tell him to do the laundry, but he stubbornly refused), and hustle down the road to the bus stop.  Once on the bus, I open my bag and reach for my book.
I am not a renowned athlete, nor am I a great scholar, but I do believe in keeping the body and mind active and the spirit positively disposed.  Therefore, on the hour-long commute to work, I will typically engage myself in some sort of philosophical, scientific, or religious reading material.  Most recently I have indulged myself in several books written by and about the Dalai Lama, namely, The Universe in a Single Atom:  The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, An Open Heart:  Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life, and The Essential Dalai Lama.  After reading the first chapter in The Universe in a Single Atom, I was so impressed that I promised myself that I would write a personal response to the Dalai Lama’s genius upon completion of the book.  Instead of doing so, however, I came across the other aforementioned books, and I decided that I would read them as well before buckling down in front of the keyboard.  Now that I have completed these great, insightful books, the time has come for me to honor my promise to myself.
     As noted above, I make no claims of being a hard-nosed, highly disciplined scholar or journalist.  In fact, by many standards, I am lazy and self-indulgent.  Due to these character flaws, I am not aiming to make this essay resemble anything other than a personal response to the views expressed by the Dalai Lama in the works mentioned above.  Let me begin by saying that prior to reading the three books The Universe in a Single Atom, An Open Heart, and The Essential Dalai Lama, I was almost completely ignorant about the life and lifestyle of the Dalai Lama.  I had some vague notions about who he was—you know, some spiritual-type mountain-dwelling guru guy who meditated a lot, ate bread every once in a while, spoke and thought esoteric meanderings to poverty stricken people, who were seeking ways to cope with their horrid conditions.  I believed that he was probably an austere, isolated man of blind faith who naively adhered to a few aphorisms handed down through the ages by some noted spiritual authority figures.  Trust me on this—I am not exaggerating the state of my absolute ignorance.  I did not even know that the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet, has been living in exile in Dharamsala, India for over 40 years. Well, let me just say that upon reading the first few chapters of The Universe, I realized what an ignoramus I was and what a practical, scholarly, diplomatic, and altruistic giant of a man His Holiness really is.  From the outset, I saw that this is a man who personifies some of my most cherished beliefs and visions.  This is a man of true humility, compassion, erudition, and equanimity.  This was an honest man with a passion for learning, as well as for teaching.  This is a man who has witnessed much hardship, and yet who holds no animosity toward anybody or institution in the world.  This is a man whom one can trust, whom one can truly revere.  Make no mistake about it.  The Dalai Lama is by no means a detached mystic who sits aloft in an isolated haven thinking surreal thoughts while avoiding the struggles and travails of “mere mortals”.  Rather, His Holiness engages people from all walks of life in his unflagging pursuit of peace and harmony for all sentient beings.  He sees the controversies, and he gives practical advice on how we can all minimize and/or eliminate them by objectively evaluating our underlying assumptions and by taking responsibility for our thoughts and actions.  Unlike many people who claim to be “spiritually oriented”, the Dalai Lama embraces “scientific” knowledge and responsible, ethical utility of that knowledge.  Indeed, responsibility and ethical considerations are topics, which His Holiness revisits time and time again.  Repeatedly he stresses the inseparable relationship that exists amongst knowledge, power, and responsibility.  Repeatedly he stresses how we must consider the long-term consequences of our actions and applications.  His pleas for judicious discernment are not based on some vague religious dogma that says, “Do the right thing now and go to heaven later”.  Rather, the Dalai Lama presents the logical, practical reasons why each of us needs to strive to evaluate our motives.  This is a key point.  The Dalai Lama lectures in such a way that spirituality is intellectually, as well as emotionally, engaging and fulfilling.  Clearly, the Dalai Lama embodies a well-balanced lifestyle and worldview.  
     Now, in spite of all the accolades I have lavished upon His Holiness above, I do have some comments to make about a few of his viewpoints. The first thing I wish to point out is that the Dalai Lama, in The Universe in a Single Atom, forcefully pushes the idea that “science” and “religion” are not opposing, but rather, complementary, methods of seeking “truth” and “reality”.  Prior to his discussion on some of the overarching philosophies of the “scientific method”, he remarks that science is actually a sort of religion.  (I realize an exact quote here would be appropriate, but as I have stated, I am lazy, and since I do not recall the exact words, I am keeping this a very informal discussion and simply paraphrasing.)  Now I wholeheartedly agree with that statement, and my query is why the Dalai Lama did not pursue the argument further.  In other words, whereas the Dalai Lama primarily argues that science is like a religion, I believe the stronger and more cogent argument is that science is a religion.  The fourth definition of “religion” in my Webster Dictionary is “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith”.  The mistaken belief that many people have about the realm of science is that scientists do not rely upon “faith” but only upon “knowledge”.  This is nonsense.  Scientists are human beings, and as such, they MUST rely upon faith in everything they do.  Scientists, just like everybody else, rely upon assumptions, and in so doing, they are taking leaps of faith.  I have often contemplated why it is that so many people are wont to separate the “arts” and the “sciences”.  This dichotomy, much like the dichotomy between “science” and “religion”, is a false one.  Make no mistake about it, science, at its very core, depends upon mathematical principles, and mathematical principles and models are not only discovered—they are INVENTED.  What I am saying here is that mathematicians, and therefore scientists, are artists who ardently adhere to “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs (i.e. a philosophy)”.  In other words, scientists are, by the definition cited above, religious people.  Now at that, I expect some of you will balk and say “Yes, but science does not allow for talk of “God” or “supernatural forces”.  On this, let me point out just a couple of things.  First, not all religions attest to the existence of a “God”.  Buddhists, for example, adamantly deny the existence of an independent omniscient creator, and prefer to speak in terms of “dependent origination” and subsequent gross and subtle laws of “karma”.  Scientists, on the other hand, speak in terms of “singularities”, “energy forces”, laws of “attraction and repulsion”, “nature”, and “evolution”.  A fundamental law of Physics is that “energy can be neither created nor destroyed, only altered”.  Personally, when I see this statement, it looks as if “energy” and “God” are simply two different words for the same “prime mover”.  Similarly, is it not possible that “God” and “nature” are one in the same?  Or “God” and “evolution”?  Do not spiritualists speak of “God” being omnipresent, residing both within and outside of us?  Is this not true of what scientists call “nature”, “energy”, or even “evolution”?  In light of that thought, does the term “supernatural” really make any sense?   The point I am driving here is that I believe the Dalai Lama may have been more effective in presenting science as a kind of “masked religion” instead of an enterprise that is distinct from (although complementary to) religion.  I cannot say for sure, but I suspect that much of the reason behind the Dalai Lama’s representation of science is that he is somewhat daunted by the ideologies of scientists. This observation, however, is not to fault the Dalai Lama, as his familiarity with the everyday proceedings of the scientific community is necessarily that of an “outsider”.  That is to say, the Dalai Lama has not been personally involved in the human dynamics and foibles that pervade and often pollute the lofty ambitions of the scientific arenas.  Much can be said about this particular topic, but it suffices to say here that scientists have agendas, and often those agendas are politically and egotistically motivated.  Although I do not wish to sound like a cynic in regard to the scientific enterprise, and I certainly do not wish to over generalize, I will say that it is often the case that when it comes to the ideal of the “scientific method”, a considerable gap exists between “theory” and “practice”.    His Holiness, despite dispersing several comments throughout his lectures, which indicate a reluctance to bow to authority, ultimately yields in humble deference to the word of the scientists and the generally held belief that science and religion are separate enterprises.  I will conclude by simply asserting that at heart, in the final analysis, science is much more of an art (or religion, by extension) than a…science.
     The next point I wish to touch upon briefly is that the Dalai Lama, throughout many of his teachings, emphasizes the Buddhist belief that human beings are the only sentient beings who are fortunate enough to be able to practice the Dharma.  According to him, the reason that we are experiencing life in human form is that we have accumulated sufficient merit and good karma from previous lifetimes.  Now, I think it is worthy to note that His Holiness expresses this notion with the intent to inspire, so I concede that his purposes appear to be in accord with his altruistic nature.  Nevertheless, I question whether this assertion is in fact “true”.  I cannot see how it follows that we could have accumulated enough good karma to become human if we did not have the power to practice the Dharma in previous lives.  Do other sentient beings simply suffer with no way to escape?  If so, how can they earn enough merit to become human?  On the other hand, if they can accumulate merit, why is it that they cannot become one with Buddha nature prior to becoming human?  In short, my question is this:  Are human beings truly “superior” to other sentient creatures?  Does not this belief, if it is not an “absolute truth” (of which Buddhists tend to deny existence, since all things are impermanent and empty), reflect a sense of arrogance?  And isn’t it precisely this type of arrogance that can hinder ones progress upon the path?  I find these to be legitimate questions, for I believe that many animals, more so than most humans, naturally resemble highly evolved Bodhisattvas.  I believe that I stand in good company when I take this position, for people who passionately partake in naturalist studies are continually telling us of amazing abilities displayed throughout the entire ecosystem.  Historically, human beings have considered themselves “kings of the beasts” and have beaten their chests as the alpha-species.  Boldly we cry out, “There are none more intelligent than we are!”  Maybe that is true…maybe.  But let me ask you—What exactly IS “intelligence”?  We have an obscure idea of what it refers to, of course, but I dare say that nobody is intelligent enough to define it to the liking of everybody else.  Does it have something to do with our ability to reflect upon our own existence and state of awareness?  Indeed, many consider this ability unique to human beings and therefore assume that it is an attribute of “intelligence”.  But how do we know that other species cannot do this, perhaps even to a higher degree? Nevertheless, let us assume for the moment that human beings are in fact the only species that can reflect upon the nature of life and consciousness.  Does that fact in itself render us superior to the rest of the Earth’s creatures if we are also the only species that has the power to wreak utter havoc upon the entire ecosystem and heedlessly does so?  Perhaps I have strayed a bit from the immediate topic, but my main point is that human beings surely do not routinely exhibit the wisdom and compassion that other creatures existing within the natural world do, and I am therefore loathe to assume that they have any inherent claims to a “superior” status.  I prefer to think that everything has Buddha nature and possesses its own kind of “intelligence”.  This way of thinking stands in accord with the Soto school of Zen Buddhism.
     I must comment upon one final conundrum, which has been torturing the remnants of my frail mind.  In each of the aforementioned books currently under discussion, His Holiness has extensively elaborated upon the Buddhist’s acceptance of “emptiness” as the basis of reality.  Skipping the details, the upshot of the argument is that ultimate reality is devoid of anything intrinsically independent or permanent.  This is true of mental phenomena as well as physical phenomena.  Everything comes into being and exists only in relation to other causes and conditions.  This idea is known as “dependent origination”.  Consequently, Buddhists do not accept the existence of a judgmental “almighty Creator”.  In fact, the Dalai Lama points out that the Buddha warned that the belief in such a deity is a “wrong view”.  Now personally, I have no qualms with the argument of dependent origination.  The problem lies in the fact that millions of wholesome and compassionate people throughout both the East and the West do believe in and attest to the existence of an independent Godhead.  My question is simply “Can both ways be “right” despite the Buddha’s admonishments against “wrong” views?  The Dalai Lama makes it poignantly clear that he endorses the theory of “emptiness” and dependent origination and that this is a belief that all Buddhists share.  The Dalai Lama also makes it clear, however, that he believes that all of the world’s major religions have merit and that religious diversity is a wonderful thing.  He even goes so far as to say that he believes that, in general, people should honor the religion of their culture to the best of their abilities.  Again, I have no personal problem with this stance, as it is tolerant, practical, and diplomatic.  The real problem seems to arise from the Buddha’s distinction between “right” and “wrong” views.  From the Buddha’s perspective, all suffering is caused by attachment to things that are impermanent and transient.  Since all phenomena are impermanent, arising and existing only in dependence with other phenomena, an independent Godhead cannot exist.  Moreover, attachment to such a Godhead only causes more suffering.  Thus, it would seem that all those who proclaim faith in the existence of such an independent entity would never escape suffering and would only serve to induce more suffering upon the world.  Experience, however, does not bolster this rationale, for many Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and others who revere an Almighty Creator lead productive lives and make great contributions to the benefit of humankind.  So my final questions are “Are all religions Dharma doors?”  If so, “In light of the truth of emptiness, is it proper to speak of “independent” vs. “dependent”, of “Godhead” vs. “no-Godhead”?  In response, I appeal to the Zen tradition, which emphasizes the principle of “not one, not two”, which seems to express the same thought as “both one and two”.  Let us briefly examine this proposal, for I feel it has the potential to break down some of our preconceived ideas about “reality”.  You see, I believe we tend to view reality as either dependent or independent, unitary or dualistic, absolute or relative.  The truth is, however, that both must be correct.  If we view all phenomena as dependent, then we must conclude that the very concept of “dependence” is also dependent upon other concepts.  But upon what other concepts?  Concepts that exist in dependence with other concepts, right? In turn, these “other” concepts exist in dependence with still other concepts!  As we continue to delve, we find ourselves in the midst of “recursive abstraction”, and we can never escape the fact that “something” depends upon “nothing”.  Thus, we find that “ultimate reality” must be a composite of “something” and “nothing” concepts.  It really makes no sense to argue that “something” emerged from “nothing” or that “nothing” emerged from “something”, since strict logic dictates that “something and nothing” must have coexisted and given rise to each other since beginningless time.  (Well, upon second thought, I suppose strict logic does not allow for the concept of “beginningless time”…Strict logic leads us to the limitations of strict logic….hmmm…) If we can accept this complete view of “emptiness”, I believe we can accept “God” and “dependent origination” as complementary notions.  Moreover, I believe the complete view of emptiness dispels the very notion of “opposition”.  (Then again, I guess it dispels the very notion of all notions!  Ah-hah!)    
     In conclusion, I feel obliged to clarify that I do not proclaim myself a member of any specific religion.  I proclaim myself a seeker, and as a seeker, I have discovered that all religions betray the whims and paradoxical personality traits of their disciples.  With that said, however, I must admit that I am drawn to Buddhism more than I am to other major religions.  I suppose the primary reason for this rests in Buddhism’s relatively non-authoritarian belief structure and Buddha’s compassionate invitation to “come and see for yourself”.  My impression, therefore, is that if we take this invitation as top priority, we can all be Buddhists and non-Buddhists at the same time.  In other words, Buddhism embraces the paradoxical nature of “truth”, “humanity”, and “reality” and just lets it BE!  If we want to accept Buddhism, it is there--splendidly empty.  If we want to reject Buddhism, it is there--splendidly empty.  Buddhism radiates compassion and unconditional love, and it reflects the Essential Dalai Lama-- who is, quite simply, the atom that contains the universe.  Anybody who seeks to expand her mind and open her heart is well advised to explore the teachings of this “humble monk”.                          

Wednesday, May 17, 2006



     I am sure that I’m running the risk of really upsetting the American patriots who see the “American Way” as the epitome of infallible logic and justice.  If you are one of those whom I have just described, you should probably move onto another blog, for what I am about to say will likely wreak havoc with your deeply entrenched belief system.  Not that my purpose is to inflame, but I do hope to bestir an attitude of deep reflection in those who are willing to hear me out with an open mind.  Often I have thought about how arbitrarily the foundations of the American system have been established, but until now, I have not voiced my opinion—at least not my full argument.  The underlying principle of a democratic system of government is that the citizens of a given nation should have a say in the leaders who preside over that nation.  It is also generally believed that all citizens who are eligible to vote should vote.  Indeed, voting is considered a duty that every responsible citizen should undertake.  These beliefs are underpinnings of the American philosophy of government, and I have no real beef with them, other than I believe the criteria for voting should be based upon ones understanding of the issues and candidates, as well as on ones contributions to society, rather than on age and the number of years that one has resided within this country.  The very idea that the leaders of this country, as well as the citizens who support them, have come to the conclusion that an intelligent boy, say of 15 years old, who is well-informed of the issues and of the candidates’ positions on those issues cannot voice an opinion in that election is preposterous in my eyes.  It seems even more absurd when one considers that there are multitudes of people who are of “legal voting age” who know little or nothing about what is at stake, and yet go out to vote simply because they feel it is their sacred duty.  Similarly, when it comes to immigrants, the American system does not allow them the right to participate in government decisions until they have lived here for some arbitrarily determined number of years—I believe seven.  This hardly seems fair to me, since I know many immigrants to our country who are extremely knowledgeable about key political issues and who have made significant contributions to the country’s welfare, despite not having lived here for a long period of time.  On the other hand, I will venture to say that far too many natural born Americans go to the polls who spend a large majority of their time in a drunken or drug-induced stupor and believe they are good, loyal Americans simply because they make it a habit to vote at elections.  In essence, the foundation of the American government allows for the possibility that our leaders could be elected at the hands of totally ignorant and lazy individuals.  Now how can this problem be averted?  Well, how about screening people—not by some stupid criteria like minimum age or minimum time spent living in this country—but by their level of competence?  Is this not a brilliant idea?  Yeh, yeh, I know, many of you are thinking what a high-brow I’m being, but come on, be serious here.  If you are a business owner and you want your business to run as smoothly as possible, you are obviously going to seek out the best-qualified employees.  Likewise, our nation should be built and run by people who possess at least a minimum of awareness of their responsibilities and who have proven that they have an ability and willingness to contribute.  Am I suggesting that every eligible voter should hold a BA or PhD in political science or some related discipline?  Certainly not, but I am suggesting that the arbitrary criteria that are now in place be dropped in favor of criteria that require at least some degree of competence. If voting is truly such a great responsibility, then we surely do not want this responsibility placed in the hands of total fools; certainly, we want to do our utmost to relinquish even the possibility of such a catastrophe.  That is just common sense in my opinion (or if it is not common sense, I hope it becomes so!)  See you at the polls!  

Tuesday, May 16, 2006



     Although my dear friend Irene did agree with the majority of my opinions on the American Dream, she did, I believe, feel as though I was being rather harsh.  Irene correctly stated that most Americans are moral and do try to do the right thing—most of the time.  I agree with this, but my opinion is that most Americans have a myopic view of what the “right thing” really is.  They may do the “right thing” for themselves, their friends, their immediate family, or even their country—but do they do the “right thing” for all of humanity, or for the entire planet?  Do they know what the “right thing” truly is when considering options on this scale?  Do ANY of us know?  I don’t believe any of us really do know…but I do believe that we should all make the EFFORT to know and to do the “right thing” on the planetary, or cosmic scale.  This is where quality education is so crucial.  How can we possibly make the “right” decisions if we don’t know the issues, if we don’t know the possible long-range consequences of our every day knee-jerk reactions?  We need to cultivate vision, and we need to understand at the core of our being that we ALL want to be happy.  Above all, we need to acutely understand that material accumulation, power, and fame are NOT equivalent to “happiness” or “freedom”.  These things can certainly be an effective means of achieving this ultimate and common end, but they must be obtained and distributed with compassion, intelligence, and responsibility.  Surely I am not saying anything here that has not been said much more eloquently by countless sages throughout countless centuries.  Every action, every thought, every decision we make has an effect in this universe.  Only an omniscient being could infallibly describe the intricate relationships that exist within this interdependent network of ideas and actions, and I personally do not believe in the existence of such an “omniscient being”.  I do believe, however, in the possibility of us all becoming more aware of that we do have an impact upon this world, even if we do not know exactly what that impact might be.  Indeed, all of life is an experiment, and “certainty” is enmeshed within laws of “probability”.  With that said, I believe we can and should all aspire to make decisions that take into consideration a much larger picture than what we are usually accustomed.  Surely it will be necessary to forego our own instant gratification at times, but perhaps, in time, we can all become instantly gratified by making more globally respectful decisions and contributions of our resources and abilities.  All right, I have digressed in grand style!  My primary objective was simply to post my emailed response to Irene, so here goes!  I appreciate your patience!

Well hello new Mom.  Virgil is well and climbing all over me right now, insisting that I give you his regards.  Regarding my harangue, don't get me wrong.  I'm not dissing Americans.  In fact, I would argue that by and large all of humanity is basically good.  As for the Arabs, to tell you the truth, I really do not know enough about the situation to make any kind of strong statement one way or the other.  I do think though that we need to be extremely wary of demonizing an entire nation of people.  And I also think we need to be very wary of believing that Americans are the saviors of the world.  The fact of the matter is that the US government has gone against the United Nations on a number of occasions, and that is NEVER a good thing in my opinion.  That in itself speaks volumes to me, despite the fact that I cannot elaborate much on details.  We tend to see the entire world through blinders--we are right and moral, they are demons.  When it comes down to it, I would bet you that most American children could get along well with most Arab children if they were to meet on the playground.  That is because children haven't had the time to internalize stereotypes and prejudices--at least not ones that evoke a deep intractable sense of animosity.  I think it is also the case that we tend to underrate the intelligence of other nations because we seem to relate intelligence to material possession.  That is a convenient fiction.  There are many incidences of nations which I personally believe were far ahead of their time in terms of intelligence and, for whatever reason, did not opt to use that intelligence toward material gain.  It is funny how in the west we so admire the great minds of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Descartes, Jung, Einstein, Bohr, and countless others...but the philosophers of China, Tibet, and India were actually conveying many of the same thoughts that these and other Westerners expressed, but they did so hundreds and even thousands of year prior.  In general, I do not believe that Americans are "evil" (as many would attest), but I do believe that we are myopic and incredibly prone to arrogance.  It is not a good thing when we spend billions upon billions of dollars on armed forces (money which is not even ours--Jesus, the national debt is in the trillions!) and can not afford to pay teachers and educators their fair dues.  In a nutshell, THAT is where most of the world's problems lie.  Power and freedom arise from high quality education and diplomacy, not from bombs and missiles.  Well, Sunday evening thoughts.  Peace to you and yours.
Luv ya
Todd R. 

Sunday, May 14, 2006



     I recently received an email from a dear friend of mine asking my thoughts on the “American Dream”.  What does it mean?  It is especially ironic that my friend, who is a native-born Russian, has asked me this, for she is, in the eyes of many, living the “American Dream”.  But she is doing so with a strong sense of self-awareness, and she has definitely paid some heavy dues and learned some valuable lessons along the way.  Anyway, I responded to my friend, and I thought that since my response was very much in the spirit of Train to Freedom, I would post it here.  Of course, it is hardly a “polished masterpiece”…it is ONLY an email after all…but since I like to preach that we all should get the greatest returns on our energy investments, I thought that I would post it here for the sake of keeping the blog at least moderately active!  And who knows?  Maybe one day I will actually take the time to elaborate more fully on this (although, maybe some feel that I am merely beating a dead horse!)   Anyway, here are my thoughts.  Love them or leave them.

Happy Mother's Day, Mrs. Irene Garrett!  Wow!  How do those words sound to you?  Hey, am I mistaken, or do you also have a birthday this month?  If so, Happy Birthday too!  So many things to celebrate in such a short span of time, no?  (I guess we can all always say that when we are in the right frame of mind).  Ah, the American Dream...and what is it?  Well, I guess it really depends upon who you ask when it gets to the particulars, but in general I believe it can be summed up as the desire for material wealth and power and freedom.  There can be a tremendous problem with this "dream", however, when these things are sought in and of themselves.  This is because people tend to lose focus on other things that are much more valuable in the long run and in the "big" picture.  What I mean by this is that people  (not all people of course) start to view material wealth and power as an end in itself rather than a means to an end.  I will venture to say that ALL people, and ALL sentient beings for that matter, desire "happiness" and "freedom"--which I will define as "freedom from suffering".  The problem is that when too much emphasis is placed on the acquisition of material possessions, we become extremely high-maintenance and easily discontented.  We begin to want, want, want and we don't take the time to appreciate the things that we do have, we fail to cultivate our minds, our health, our relationships, the "big" picture--the wonders and mysteries of the entire universe.  We become myopic, narrow-minded, and self-centered, and in the process, we lose our sense of interdependency with literally everything and everybody on this planet, and in this universe.  In short, we literally lose touch with reality and "truth".  We lose our sense of balance and equanimity.  This is why we Americans are so scorned by others on this planet at this time (of course, it is not right for others to scorn us!  That represents misunderstanding and imbalance as well!).  We lose sight of the fact that there are 6.5 BILLION people on this planet!  Just think about that for a moment if you will.  6.5 BILLION is a very large number...and I dare say, that most of us really can not even relate to a number of that magnitude.  I mean, of course we hear it, and we can see it...but can we really internalize what 6.5 BILLION really means?  Anyway, now ask yourself, does the earth itself contain sufficient natural resources to allow 6.5 BILLION people to sustain themselves in the style of the typical American?  There is absolutely no way!  In short, the typical American has MUCH more than his/her fair share of the planet's wealth...and yet the majority of us are still malcontent and wanting even more...with total disregard for the needs of the rest of the planet.  I am really convinced that the average American dreamer needs to wake up.  Now, I know I sound harsh here...and I really don't mean to.  I of course know that not ALL Americans fit this type of character analysis, and I also know that not ALL people who DO fit this type of character analysis are Americans.  But I also realize that with every stereotype, there is at least an element of truth, and I do honestly believe that we need to really step up to the plate and face our responsibilities.  Indeed, we need to realize that with wealth and power comes a responsibility to give back and to contribute... and not a lack of responsibility to do so.  In sum, what the American Dream SHOULD be is to develop wealth and power in direct proportion to what we can afford to responsibly and judiciously give back to society at large.  Anyway, maybe a bit more than you asked for, but those are my Sunday morning thoughts on the "American Dream".  Hey, I'm attaching a couple of articles I wrote a while back.  Now that you're a Mom, give them a read sometime and let me know what you think.  They are part of a book I'm working on--Train to Freedom.  Hope you have a great day today!  Give my regards to the man of the house and the littlun!  And of course, man's best friend!  Peace.
Todd R.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


                                 STRUGGLE WITH BOREDOM

     It seems to me that so much of life is an escape from boredom.  Perhaps this is no real earth shattering revelation, but I nonetheless feel compelled to address it.  I mean, why not?  What else is there to do?  I’m convinced that many of humankind’s vices are rooted in sheer boredom.  That being said, let me ask a question.  Is boredom the same emotion as depression, or is it something altogether different?  I ask this question because I feel that the two are related in an important way.  If we could construct a theoretical continuum on which “elation” stands at one end and “depression” on the other, we might be tempted to throw “boredom” somewhere right in the middle, possibly leaning toward the “depression” end of the spectrum.  But there is a problem with this depiction—specifically, it seems as though boredom can coexist with depression in a very intimate manner, and yet it does not accord well with elation at all.  Thus, the question might better be asked as “When does boredom morph into depression?”  Hmmm.  That is not an easy question to answer, and for that matter, it is not an easy matter to define clearly any emotion.  But let me cut to the chase here.  The main point I wish to establish is that human beings tend to be nonchalant toward feelings of boredom.  Think about it.  If your best friend calls you up one day and says that she is bored, do you typically feel a need to reach out to her and console her, try to help her?  Probably not.  After all, life is boring, deal with it…right?  On the other hand, if she calls and tells you that she is depressed and feeling very down, chances are good that, being a compassionate friend, you will try to lift her spirits and feel genuine concern for her mental well being.  The problem here is that we are failing to recognize boredom for what it truly is.  Boredom is a thick veil that blinds us from being rational.  In a sense, it is a patent indicator that we are insane, at least temporarily. (All right, maybe I hyperbolize a bit here.)  The fact of the matter is that every breath we take, every image we see, sound we hear, taste we taste is an insoluble mystery and intricate expression of the most exquisite action.  Even the very concept of boredom itself is exhilarating to grapple with…like trying to catch a butterfly with a hoola hoop. (Can you picture that?)  My suggestion is to attack boredom straightway, as it begins to rear its ugly head.  Try to define it, see where it wants to go, ask whence it has come…and then watch it gently glide away…or maybe EXPLODE!  Once we realize that boredom is an irrational response to life, perhaps it will automatically follow that “suffering” in all of its manifestations will dissipate substantially.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


The passion for teaching and learning has elicited a lively and spirited discussion between AS and myself. It may seem at first glance that we have both strayed from the initial topic in places, but it is nonetheless entertaining and fulfilling (for yours truly, at least) to look back on how this candid conversation has fluidly unraveled. I have found it significant that Steve’s initial essay roused my critical faculties, and yet, in retrospect, as I look back on the entire discussion, I cannot pinpoint any specific claim with which I really disagree. In fact, I believe my vision has been expanded as a result of this discussion. As far as I can tell, we both wholeheartedly agree that students can thrive in both a same-sex and a co-ed educational environment. I also believe that we both would agree that students learn best when subjected to a variety of teaching techniques and attitudes—cross-training if you will. Perhaps it would be of benefit to promote the idea of students participating in BOTH environments at certain points of their scholarly careers. Then again, this idea is bound to open a whole new can of worms, and would most certainly be difficult to implement on a large scale…but I am one of those people who believe that ideas possess value in and of themselves. Thus, I have brought it to the table for reflection, and perhaps for a thrashing. I hesitate somewhat to put this material within the pages of this blog, for a forum is a more likely venue for this matter; but I like the dynamics involved, and I feel the attitudes expressed enrich and reflect the “personality” of the Train to Freedom. Thus the lengthy entries. At any rate, what follows is more of the aforementioned conversation between AS (Steve) and me. I hope you have been enjoying the ride.

In a message dated 4/9/2006 7:13:09 A.M. Central Daylight Time, Spikereinhard writes:
Tops to you AS. Since you have taken the time to write such a detailed response to my commentary on your essay, I feel obliged, in the spirit of friendly banter of course, to reciprocate.
Hey Todd,

Thanks. I enjoy our conversations.

In truth, I have nothing to rebut, although I do have a couple of questions, qualifications, and elaborations...for the sake of clarification. First off, by "diversity" I simply mean "variety", more specifically as it refers to differences in people and personalities. Certainly all words to some degree derive their meanings through the eyes of the beholders, but I do think that most would agree that men and women are fundamentally "different" in many aspects (if we didn't assume this ab initio, this discussion would not be unfolding), and therefore, eliminating women entirely from a milieu is necessarily eliminating a significant source of "diversity". Don't get me wrong though. I do understand what you are saying about diversity being a difficult term to pin down, for certainly one cannot meaningfully "quantify" "diverse" characteristics that exist amongst individuals.

Thanks for the clarifications, Todd. I was concerned about the views of people who take words like "diversity" and turn them into an ideology, to be achieved at all costs. You're clearly not talking about that.

My main contention is that, owing to the fact that approximately half of the world population is comprised of women, it generally behooves men to be exposed to their ways of viewing the world, which, as I asserted before, tend to be fundamentally different in many respects from those of their counterparts (for better or for worse, I might add). I believe, that in the main, a school environment should be as representative as possible of the larger global "population" in regard to gender and cultural "diversity". (An all-boys school over represents the y-chromosome!)

I want to look at what is effective. If boys and girls do, indeed, learn differently, then I see great value in appreciating and serving those varying styles of learning. I see sufficient evidence of sex-based differences in learning approaches to warrant increased educational opportunities. Merely putting children, young adults, or even older adults together in an environment to facilitate exposure to differences in others' ways of viewing the world does not seem helpful to me when much of what is at stake appears to be the development of the very cognitive faculties needed to perceive and appreciate those differences!

Here's another way to look at it. Assume that girls and boys do learn differently and that awareness and accommodation of those differences allow many students to achieve their full academic potential. Here are some links that provide some of the evidence for this assumption, from the National Association for Single Sex Public Education (NASSPE).
(brain differences)
(learning style differences)
(single-sex compared to co-educational schools)
(advantages of single-sex schools for girls)
(advantages of single-sex schools for boys)
"Computers, Brains, and Gender Equity" essay)

(Of course, the NASSPE is an organization with an agenda. However, one can easily examine the sources behind their claims, so, at least for purposes of forming a reasonable assumption, I am confident to use their summations of the data.)

One question I have for you is "What compelled you to choose an all-boys school?" I raise this question because in general, I agree with you that educational options should be available, and I agree with you that people learn differently in different environments. However, it makes sense to me that a compelling reason should exist before a student should deviate from the norm, so to speak. For example, in the case that a bright boy continues to neglect his studies in a conventional co-ed school and ascribes the motives behind his slack to an attraction to girls, then perhaps it is best for that boy to attend an all-boys school as an experiment. Or perhaps he should try a study-at-home protocol...or whatever. The point I am attempting to make is that I believes options should exist, but conventions should at first be attempted. After all, one has to start somewhere. Why not with the "conventional" approach? If it doesn't seem to work, THEN there is a compelling reason to change and try something a bit more unorthodox.

To answer in somewhat reverse order, I think the conventions are first being attempted and the conventions are the starting point. The same-sex movement is exploring alternatives to co-educational models as a response to difficulties many students have in a "conventional" educational environment. I think this approach allows plenty of room for variation and gives us more freedom than does a "one-size-fits-all" model that seems to have its own challenges.

As for me, having the opportunity to attend my school was a blessing. My parents chose my school for the more strict disciplinary environment and wider opportunity of course offerings than were available in co-educational public schools. I chose my school because of what I considered a greater educational opportunity, an positive attention to boys (who, in my elementary school years, seemed kind of like second-class citizens in the classroom), broader range of elective courses and the opportunity for technical education at the high school level, greater sports opportunities (both interscholastic and intramural), and larger number of extracurricular activities.

In a nutshell, those are the reasons. Could those things have been achieved by an overhaul of the Chicago public schools? Sure. However, if I can go get my dinner from my local supermarket, or go to the zoo and fight the biggest lion for his or her dinner, which do you think I'm gonna do?

You have mentioned your cousin and her experience with mathematics. This is a particularly interesting point, and it is in fact one that ties with some of my former comments about boys and girls being "fundamentally" different in various respects. Indeed, studies continue to show that boys outscore girls in mathematic and "science" skills. Girls, on the other hand, tend to outscore boys in reading and writing skills, and they show a greater degree of "emotional intelligence". I do believe that the educational environment and self-fulfilling prophecies have a lot to do with these findings.

I agree, there can be an element of self-fulfilling prophecies here.

However, I do not intuitively believe that the way to enhance a girl's math skills or to enhance a boy's language skills is to isolate boys from girls. In fact, I believe that the opposite approach should be taken. Interactive learning is a great conduit for higher education, and I believe that boy students should be working in conjunction with girl students in learning and teaching roles. The idea here is cooperative learning and teaching. Your cousin feared competition with boys in mathematics, at least that is how it appears to boil down. An educational system should be set up to dilute this fear by endorsing cooperation. If one thinks about it, there is really no sound reason why the aforementioned statistics should exist. Mathematics is really nothing more than a type of language, and the converse is also true (of course)--language behaves very "mathematically". It is not correct to say that mathematics is "analytical" and language is "creative" or "intuitive". The fact is that mathematics, at its heart, is creative and expressive. Of course it is also analytical. Likewise, reading and writing are creative and expressive, but they can also be subjected to analysis and "scientific" scrutiny. If boys and girls can work TOGETHER, they could all benefit tremendously. In the process, they would be obtaining a great deal of "emotional intelligence". What is the "teacher's" role in all of this? Well, pretty much the usual--guidance and supervision. But he or she should inspire the overarching notion that deep learning and understanding is greatly enhanced through the act of teaching itself. Therefore, it behooves the "students" to play the role of "teachers" to each other.

You're talking about the interbeing of learning. Teaching and learning inter-are. Again, I agree. However, there can be many paths to learning, many dharma doors, if you will.

In this way, you create a microcosm for many of my "Utopian" ideals--which brings me to my final question (oooo--at long last!). Why does the idea of "Utopia" scare you? I think we all have our ideas of a sort of "Utopia". I think it is "hardwired" in our neurons, so to speak, to think of how our ideal world would be. It's basically just our own perspectives of heaven, I suppose. At least, that is how I meant it. I didn't necessarily mean it to be in keeping with the St. Thomas Moore's original.
I think I was getting caught up in the terminology of "Utopia." My fears result from situations that try to achieve some sort of "Utopia" through merely changing a few things on the surface of society without penetrating to the root causes of why things are the way they are. I see tremendous potential for ideologically-driven abuses, but that's just me.

Well Bro, I think that pretty much covers everything for now. Oh yes--somebody should press charges against R. Mayweather. That behavior is just criminally stupid. At least the gloved combatants seemed to make amends after the show. Take care Ace. Hit me whenever. Pax tibi sit.

Todd R.

Yes, making amends is a good first step. Thanks for your ideas. You're helping me understand the bases of my own views more completely and are persuading me of the validity of my position even more than I had persuaded myself. hehe

Now where did I put those gloves? We're gonna need 'em, friend! :-)

All the best to you, too, Todd!


Hey there Buddy. As usual, I am always (well, usually) up for a spirited debate amongst good sports who appreciate intellectual honesty above all--and I DO believe that is true of you. But, the funny thing is, I do not see any specific point where we are clearly at odds. Perhaps we would be at odds in this hypothetical extreme case--an extreme that I feel both of us would adamantly oppose--but an extreme hypothetical case that may give us both some insight into where we stand in relation to each other in this discussion. Let us for kicks suppose that an election is to be held tomorrow on issue X. If issue X passes, ALL schools, from here on out are co-ed. If issue X "fails", all schools, from here on out, are single-sex. Now, if I HAD to vote in one direction or the other (a true dichotomy), I would vote FOR issue X. The primary reason for my vote would be because I would view a "no" vote on issue X as a vote for segregation. In short, I am sure that if one tries hard enough, he or she can find "scientific evidence" that supports the theory that blacks learn differently from whites, Hispanics learn differently from Russians, Indians learn differently from Israelis, etc. Perhaps they do. But I believe that it would be clearly wrong to segregate people on the basis of these "scientific findings"--even if they were "true". (And on that, I really don't believe it possible to "prove" this kind of stuff. It ultimately will always come down to rhetoric, cherry picking, and spin-doctoring.) In many ways, this smacks of somewhat watered down Nazism (Don't worry Bro, I'm not calling you a Nazi!). I believe it would also become a breeding ground for gang mentality. Anyway, in summary, I guess my primary point here is that if we cast our votes differently, then it could be that we have located a fundamental sticking point--and it could be an impasse at that point, because, although I am always willing to hear out counterpoints, I can not presently see myself changing my vote...I am pretty steadfast on that. On the other hand, if we both cast our votes with like mind, then I don't see any substantial difference in our views. You know my vote Bro! It's up to you to decide if this is a debate or merely a stimulating conversation! Looking forward to the final tally! Namaste!

Todd R.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm think we're going to have to just agree to disagree on this one because I feel this discussion is rapidly reaching a point of diminishing returns.

For the record, we can't compare different ethnic groups or "races" (use of quotation marks there is intentional because I have a lot of problems with that term) in the same way that we compare men and women and girls and boys. Specifically, I am unaware of *any* difference between "races" or "ethnic groups" that is even remotely comparable to the differences between men and women, many of them genetically based.

I don't accept your claim about quasi-Nazism, although I don't take any personal offense from your use of the term here. However, I don't see much value in continuing the discussion beyond this point, since as you have said, the amount of disagreement here is fairly limited.

I do hope you will continue updating Train to Freedom because I enjoy reading it.


In a message dated 4/12/2006 5:46:41 A.M. Central Daylight Time, Spikereinhard writes:
Me again AS.


Now come on, do you REALLY think I would be who I am today if I let you go THAT easily? HA! (Who am I, really?)

Well, of course you would / would not!

Seriously though, I do feel the need to clarify a couple of points further, lest I be misunderstood. (If anybody is going to misunderstand me, dammit, it's going to be me!)

OK, if you insist. Hehe

First, I want to vehemently stress that I am NOT calling YOUR views quasi-Nazism.

I didn't think you were calling my views quasi-nazism, not at all.

I do believe that one can, without too much of a stretch, draw comparisons between EXTREME mandatory gender division and Nazism, but then again, I believe that anything taken to such an EXTREME can be argued as "Nazism", or at least, by definition, "fanaticism".

Yes. The operative word here is "extreme."

Having agreed thus far, I must make at least one more point. (See how this goes! )

For one thing, extreme gender inclusion, where such inclusion may harm the persons included, can also be regarded as "Nazism," or as you suggested, "fanaticism."

Anyway, from everything you have stated, it is poignantly clear that you do NOT favor an extreme stance, and therefore, I am certainly not arguing that YOUR views are in keeping with quasi-Nazism.


Furthermore, let it be known that I, like yourself, do not truly believe in this thing commonly (and ignorantly) referred to as "race". When put under the microscope, this "thing" or "essence" we call "race" quickly vanishes.

The challenge, of course, is to make sure that the lenses of this metaphorical microscope are clear, unclouded. If not, just like an annoying left jab kept firmly in the face of a hapless opponent, dirty or scratched lenses can prevent us from seeing accurately.

(Methinks it's too early in the morning for such a maladroit mixed metaphor. I tried to save it with a wee bit of alliteration.)

Now, what I do call into question is whether, if we really, truly put this "thing" or "essence" of "gender difference" under the microscope, will it also vanish? Prima facie, I realize the absurdity of this question. But, when we truly strip ourselves, don't we ultimately draw the conclusion that we are in fact "genderless"?

If we truly strip ourselves, don't we ultimately draw the conclusion that we are in fact the elementary particle or wave? Are we not pure energy? Or matter and energy alternating their states?

We have manifested in the physical universe with bodies. Those bodies are at once a source of sorrow and of joy. I don't see the solution as getting rid of our bodies. As such, I disagree somewhat with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who said, "We are spiritual beings having a physical experience." While one can easily say that, one can also easily say that we are physical beings having a spiritual experience. Similarly, we are emotional beings having a mental experience. In fact, we could articulate many kinds of experiences by considering all the permutations of our m attributes (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, environmental) taken n at a time.

The reason I am not fond of such an approach is simply that we are multifaceted beings. We are at once body, mind, emotions, spirit, interactions with other beings and the environment at large. To me, realizing and embracing our true nature means consciously to know and experience all of these aspects of ourselves, more or less in relative balance, most of the time. There may be times when we must emphasize one aspect, such as when we have a major project at work that consumes our time and attention. However, over the long haul, if we do not have a relative balance, we create dis-ease and dis-content for ourselves.

Moreover, we manifest in both the historical and ultimate dimensions simultaneous. In the historical dimension, we have birth, death, coming, going, being, nonbeing, same, different, male, female, and all sorts of other dualistic phenomena. However, in the ultimate dimension, which some call "God," "Nirvana," the "Tao," and so forth, we are one with all that is; we have never been born and we can never die. In the historical dimension, we are waves, while in the ultimate dimension, we are water or ocean.

I think we do, and I think we can in turn draw a conclusion that THIS realization may just be the absolute pinnacle of "higher" education. Now for the ever-present (yet ever-changing...huh?) paradox: it doesn't really matter which type of school one attends--same-sex or co-ed. Is that any kind of an answer? Of course not. It just begs the question: What type of school environment is most likely to foster this ultimate epiphany?
Consciousness, baby! It's all about consciousness.

Hey, does this qualify as a koan? First and Final word: Mu.


Todd R.

That's nicely signed. Thanks. With metta, you cannot go wrong.

Let me close with my own variation on the self-directed lovingkindness meditation.

I deserve to live in safety.
I deserve to be healthy.
I deserve to be happy.
I deserve to be prosperous.
I deserve to abide in the brahmaviharas.
I deserve to live with ease.

I am willing to live in safety.
I am willing to be healthy.
I am willing to be happy.
I am willing to be prosperous.
I am willing to abide in the brahmaviharas.
I am willing to live with ease.

May I live in safety.
May I be healthy.
May I be happy.
May I be prosperous.
May I abide in the brahmaviharas.
May I live with ease.

Have a great day!

Steve (aka AS)

Keep punching!

In a message dated 4/12/2006 5:51:21 A.M. Central Daylight Time, Spikereinhard writes:

PS--I found INFINITE value in continuation of this discussion! Seek, and you will find! Muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.....!

Todd R.

All right now AS--NOW I have you! Correct me if I'm wrong (figure of speech of course--I'm never wrong!), but you explicitly stated that (well, in truth I paraphrase) further discussion on this topic would be pointless and that we were quickly heading down the path of diminishing returns. Well, if we in fact did not pursue this a bit further, you would not have composed this absolutely brilliant response--and I mean that sincerely. The analysis and the expression of the ideas involved are superb, and I hope that you will consider inserting these insights into your book if you have not already done so. Of course, if one was so inclined, he or she could take issue that "spiritual", "emotional", "physical", etc. cannot be truly isolated and viewed independently from one another (sort of like electricity and magnetism can not be isolated). However, I believe a rational counterargument to that position would be that to articulate ANY idea necessitates the a priori assumption of independent "ideas" and "energies", even though at SOME "level" of "reality" (the "ultimate" level) this is an erroneous assumption (This is that). The fact is that in order to articulate these kinds of ideas effectively, one must compose words in such a way as that meaning can be derive BETWEEN the words themselves. That is the art and the craft at stake here. In my opinion, you have done that spectacularly. I must admit that I do like and agree with the notion that we are indeed spiritual beings having a human experience. I remember well the flash of insight when I first heard those words and reflected on them. They were EXTREMELY (fanatically ?) influential upon me, and caused me to drastically change the way I viewed reality. However, as you have so well pointed out, as one proceeds further on the journey (metaphorically speaking, I suppose), he or she comes to find (rather quickly, I might add) that things are not NEARLY that simple! I think one of the most challenging things to come to grips with is that the more we "learn" about "ourselves", the more exponentially complex, or multifaceted, we become. This is when we determine for ourselves that knowing "all" of "ourselves" is an exercise in futility (this actually hearkens me back to the uncertainty principle) we need not strive. Rather, we should take refuge in the journey itself, taking snapshots along the way. Well, I had better bail from this one while I have a chance! Your words above prompted a rush of thoughts, so I'm just rambling away here! I hope I haven't totally jumped the tracks! Take care AS. Appreciate the exhilaration! Shanti.

Todd R.

Cynicism lacks any real conviction. It doesn’t like the game as it’s being played, and so it spoils it. At bottom, cynicism is a cheap and shoddy response to a life we are afraid to love because it might, for a time, be painful. -- Julia Cameron, from The Sound of Paper