About a month ago, I posted about a peace vigil that was going to occur here on JMU's campus. And guess what? It happened! I won't say that hundreds showed up and we marched through campus, demanding peace from our leaders, sitting silently in a mass energy circle that vibrated the entire cosmos (because it didn't happen that way).
What did happen, however, is that a small group of people about 17 of us, showed up, talked a bit, and then went a sat down in a circle for 51 minutes. No rainbows, no lotus petals, no doves, just a nice clear day and a breeze. And that was, in and of itself, perfection. Thank you to everyone who came, sat, and witnessed to the tragedy of war and violence. It's not the end of peace-making, but the beginning of a long and hard road to live peacefully.
I've often thought that standing with a gun is easy. Of course, it takes many hours of preparation to become a soldier in the military. But facing someone in a conflict while holding a weapon is certainly easier than not. I carried a knife for a period of time after I was nearly attacked in high school. Somehow it made me feel as if I had control over the world; if anyone was going to attack me they certainly wouldn't do so again.
I don't do that anymore. I use my knife to cut apples now, rather than for defense. If someone were to attack me now I don't know what I'd do, but I doubt I'd fight back. I would speak on the nature of non-violence, the fact that soldiers of peace are still soldiers but really I don't have the experience to speak on that, so I won't. What I will say is that we have the opportunity to choose peace. For those who feel they are backed into a corner with no way out but through violence I must say I disagree. History speaks to the fact that, as cliche as it sounds, violence begets violence. We're willing to listen to politicians who proclaim that we haven't yet learned from history with respect to our economic situation, a true statement, but yet these same figures can't seem to say the same for our history of conflict and conflicts to end conflict from the previous conflict. Perhaps these two are related? But that's for another day...
Non-violence requires that we be free within ourselves. If no prison, laws, or oppression can harm us, then we are free to move forward without the sense of the need to "water the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants", or something to that effect. Maybe if we as a people learned to be free where we are, we might make some positive changes in the world. Idealistic? Yes. Even feeling free in life, things still need to be changed, rights protected, and liberties fought for. But the way we fight can change. Instead of harsh screams, venomous words, and the barrel of a gun an acceptance, and righteous opposition to the status quo.
I don't believe in World Peace. See? I said it. Mr. Buddhahappypeacelight said that he doesn't believe in world peace and I don't think you should either because really, it's a crock of bs. But don't mistake my words for my meaning. I do, with all of my being, believe peace is both possible and the most noble aspiration of humankind. Contradictory? I don't think so.
Today marks the day exactly one month before the 10th anniversary of September 11th. Details aside, what does this mean? It means we have been at war for 10 years in several different countries. It means thousands of men, women, and children have died as a result of a war they didn't start. It means that trillions of dollars have been wasted on destruction and control while thousands upon thousands still go to bed hungry and without proper education in this country. It means that the war of attrition started by our politicians has managed to survive until another birthday.
Make a wish, Congress and Mr. President. This one's a big one. Congrats.
I wonder what happened to the anti-war movement, the environmental movement, any movement really. No, I'm not talking about "Let's hold hands and sing while we sit in so-and-so's office". That doesn't work anymore. I'm talking about drive and creativity when it comes to standing up for what's right rather than what's easy. Swap out an light bulb for a CFC? Great! I'm happy. But don't call yourself an environmental freedom fighter. I don't even know what it means to be one, and I don't pretend to.
Yesterday I posted a short list of things I want to accomplish, but I left one out purposefully for today:
On September 11th, 2011 I will be holding a vigil for peace at James Madison University.
Time and place to be decided soon, but there you have it. I'm sick of watching idly as our elected in Washington continue a war I didn't start and vote for. I'm sick of hearing the stories of friends' children's funerals, my classmates in 5th grade now dead because they were sent to fight in a war they didn't vote for. I'm sick of the hate and fear that runs its course through our media and our minds of that small patch of land above Africa. I'm sick for the men, women, and children in those countries who never had the thought to blow up a building, yet their homes are bombed in the name of "Peace". I'm sick of it, yet I won't do anything. I won't hold a sign, I won't sing a song. I'll sit.
I'll sit and bear witness, a term crafted by Zen Master and Peace activist Bernie Glassman, to all of this. By sitting, we accept life as it is, allowing all of our anger and the anger of the world to be with us rather than running away. By being with ourselves, by being with the powerful feelings of others, we learn to listen, to understand, and we begin to heal. There can be no hate in this. Anger, sadness, despair, joy, all of these emotions are possible when sitting, observing, witnessing. We sit with all of them. I can't hate our politicians, our troops, the Afghani and Iraqi citizens, or even the "terrorists". When we get down to it, we all have the capacity to play each of those roles, our lives just haven't put us in that place. We can be thankful, and suddenly open ourselves up to the suffering of others. It's not easy, and it will never be easy. But it does get easier.
In lieu of continuing this for several pages, I invite you to keep a look out on Facebook for the event that will be created. Peace be with you.
Beware: Reckless-head-in-the-clouds-college-planning ahead. You've been warned.
Life plans. I can't count how many times I've heard people say, "Oh I wish I could do this and that, but *sigh*, work-family-othergeneralexcuse..." in reference to some long forgotten fantasy they had "in their younger years". And this may be my age talking, but why? Our society focuses so much on being "productive", actually producing a service, that I believe we may have forgotten how to live. If we as individuals don't provide a service or produce a tangible object, we're seen as failures, deadbeats, or, worst of all, hippies.
That's a problem, it creates a society that is devoid of introspection and self-reflection, at least to any measurable extent, because it doesn't produce anything tangible. Can it make us happier, more selfless, and conscious? Absolutely! But you can't factor it into GDP, so we tend to forget it. It's why the tradition of religious monastics (Buddhist, Catholic, or otherwise) has been slowly waning. But I digress...
The point of this post is the bring into general detail some nebulous, and not so nebulous, plans I've decided to accomplish by August 8th, 2013 (2 years after having originally set forth my intention). These goals aren't productive. Well, they might be, but that's not why I'm doing them. The following are being done because I want to, not because they might make me money someday, but because I think they're interesting and maybe I could share such interesting knowledge with others. The list goes as follows:
1. Become a certified yoga teacher (200 hr RYT)
2. Learn to sail a boat sans motor
3. Spend 2-4 weeks hiking through another country, speaking as much of the language and as little english as possible
4. Apprentice at a bakery
The first one is for my uncle who passed away 3 months ago today. Yoga was the vehicle that moved him away from the pain of drug addiction and allowed him to fully live and express the beauty of life, even one in what most would call "shambles", he had. I think about him almost daily as I move through life with feeling begrudged or generally pissed off. Really I have nothing but to be grateful for my life, even the seemingly dark parts. The first goal is as much for him and his memory, as it is for me and those whom I wish to give the opportunity to practice.
The last three require a bit less explanation. They're just things I want to do. I like the idea of sailing. I want to go to Japan and/or Wales. And I like making bread. They're what I want to share with the world (especially the bread, it makes everything better).
So there you have it. A formal public commitment. I expect those of you that read this to hold me to it. Because I, just like anyone else, can let "life" take hold and keep me from accomplishing these things. Life is life is life, and I plan to live this one to the fullest.
So I know,technically speaking I've been back for over a week. But it was good to get around to everything that needed to be taken care of before jumping on here and giving a half-ass response and follow up to my trip. If you've been paying attention, or wond
ered where I disappeared to for four weeks, you'd know I've been in Madagascar studying forest and lemur conservation.
I did keep a journal for the entirety of my trip, writing down what happened each day, writing letters to people who I know would never see them. My general musings and thoughts about what had happened that day. Now, the easy thing to do here would be to type out each and
everyday - what happened, where it happened, word for word. But as I looked over my journal I realized that doing that would eliminate the 20/20 hindsight perspective. So much ofwhat I experienced over there didn't ripen until I came back to this h
ustle-and-bustle world we live in here in the states.
It's easy to fall into the stereotypical, "I've been to a third-world country" category. Talking about all the poverty I saw, all of the environmental degradation, how things are so unjust and that it's the fault of the rich nations that Madagascar is how it is. Some of that is true. I saw more than a few children who were severely malnourished, I saw hillsides stripped bare or burning (we even ran up to put out a wildfire in area I was staying, luckily the local people didn't need our help, I doubt we would have been of much assistance) and yes, I did see the effects of rich nations shipping their toxic manufacturing overseas. "Out of sight, out of mind" only applies when your not the poor country having to deal with the mess.
But that's the story: if you're poor, it's easier for ot
hers who have their own interests in mind to keep you poor. Certainly, the big issue here lies in a flawed and corrupt political system that doesn't give its citizens a voice. But I digress...
Again, it's easy to become one of "those people"; those who have gone abroad, the defunct peace corps volunteer, the missionaries. It can get very depressing when you think about it. I mean, less than 10% of the rainforest remains and some of the officials I spoke to said it would all be gone in 25 years. Madagascar is very green, but most of the landscape is degraded, barren, and void of native species.
There's hope though. If there's one thing I learned throughout the entire trip, it's the importance of education. Educating people that, yes,this forest is important that, yes,
your country has so many endemic (e.g. that live nowhere else in the world) species that you can feel proud to still have them that, yes, you can find another way around the repression that the system feeds you. It's uplifting, but it takes time. It'll happen, because people are already starving. It's not a matter of the "white-man's burden", they don't need our help, it's a matter of national pride and a "Madagascar for Madagascar"attitude. They can feed themselves, they just need the opportunity and the resources to do it. That isn't up to America-the-Savior, to think so would be insulting. I saw more than a few people who w
ere extremely bright - paving the way for the Malagasy people.
I'm extremely excited to see what happens.
Yes, there was a ton of wildlife. I won't recap all of it, because that's one too many latin names for everything I saw. Lemurs, geckos, snakes, mushrooms, palms, birds, etc... I'm not a field guide! Instead, here are some of my favorite pictures of the animals, plants, and fungi I encountered.
Pardon the formatting. But anyways, that's about the gist of it. Sorry, no intense stories about trekking through the jungle. If you want those you'll have to meet me in person, text just doesn't have the right hand gesticulations. I'll be creating a flickr account with more of the "best of". For now, enjoy these.
I found it both necessary and appropriate to inform those of you who read this of the passing of my Uncle. He passed away this tuesday from severe complications regarding cancer.
Normally I would keep such things low key, and thus far I have, but my uncle was an amazing man and I feel it's appropriate to share his story, or at least part of it:
It's hard to describe his personality in words, you'd have to have met him, but passion is a word to jumps to the tip of my tongue at first thought. If there was anything he had, it was passion. For fishing, for family, for life, the intensity with which he met the world was incredible; it was also more than likely the reason for the course of his life. He struggled with addiction for a good portion of his life.
Such a portion of someone's life is usually swept under the rug in a piece like this, but had he not fallen down so far, his rise back up would not have been so astounding. I saw him at both ends of the spectrum, addict to clean and sober, within two years time. The transformation was beyond description; the air around him changed, he moved with grace and composure I had never seen in him as far back as I can remember. He had lost everything, his high-paying job, his house, his car, but he hadn't lost himself. He was a man at peace with the world, and the world was at peace with him. I could see the struggle leave him, he was open, allowing life to come and greet him, taking whatever came with open arms and an open heart.
I can't tell you the impact its had on me. For someone to change so much, to make such a drastic and beautiful change is indescribable. His joy and humility were tangible; no longer was life a competition to get ahead, to beat everyone back, it was simply a masterpiece as it was. He was a shining example of what I aspire to be everyday, open and in love with the world.
I wish I could say that I'm glad he was at peace when he passed, but I wish that he could have been here longer in order to be a living example of what is possible when you have not only the wisdom to look within for peace, but when you have such a strong support behind you every step of the way. For my uncle, yoga was the gateway, but life became his practice.
He is missed, and will continue to be missed. A light left the world, but the memory stays.
So, in less than two weeks I will be in Africa! Madagascar, specifically, and to be even more specific, on the eastern coast, in a rainforest, for a month. Freaking out, in the best way possible.
While I'm there, my academic endeavors will be two-fold: First, each of us has chosen a lemur that free ranges around the reserve where we will be staying. So, to keep things short, I believe I'll be following a lemur through the jungle for four weeks. This is my lemur:
Precious, right? The species is the black and white ruffed lemur, one of the largest in Madagascar. Luckily, they're awake during the day and are easy to hear from a distance. I believe I'll name them all Francis, as figuring out individuals will be difficult. But anyways...
The second section will focus on alternative farming techniques that preserve what remains of Madagascar's forest. The forest is cut and burned to make may for agriculture. People have to eat, so what can you do? The goal is to both feed the people and save the forest, something that, if planned correctly, can be done.
The environmental degradation in Madagascar is extreme, so I don't doubt this trip will be rough. But, it's once-in-a-lifetime (unless you plan to hang out in jungles your whole life, oh wait! That's me!).
I won't have internet, or electricity or running water, so you won't hear from me until I get back. A solid comp book will serve as a journal so there will be plenty of updates upon my return. I'm headed down to the Duke Lemur Center tomorrow, so there may be one more post detailing that trip before my departure.
Its been a month since my last post, and everyone knows the reason: finals. That slow build up to the most wonderful time of the year. It's rush, rush, rush, to get past that final hurdle; the studying increases, the sleep decreases, the tensions rise, and the connections suddenly fall through as everything gives way to the worship of the almighty textbook.
And then it's over.
Just like that, after all the weeks, the year is over. I realize this isn't groundbreaking, yes I've known that the year would be over eventually, but now? Really? College is half over? I'm halfway done? Real life what?
Well it was bound to happen. I wish I could say I was ecstatic to be done with this decidedly rough year, but I'm not really. For all my complaining, and yes I still maintain that it was deserved, this year was special. Friendships grew stronger, my life seems to have found a path to follow. I'm more aware of myself, and for that I'm glad. But I'm sad to see it go, I'll miss everyone. Being Buddhist doesn't mean happy-fun-time all the time. Sadness comes, we sit with it, live with it, eat with it, and then we let it go. And if it comes back again, we do it again.
That being said, I'm leaving for Africa in just over two weeks to spend a month in Madagascar. I'll be working with several other students from JMU and App State to better understand conservation and alternative agricultural techniques in Madagascar. I could go on about it, but I suggest you look up information about the country yourself.
That's another step, it's another moment. My director for the trip said that we become more ourselves when we aren't connected to technology. I will have electricity for about an hour a day, so guess what? No internet, no phone, no nothing. And for that I'm glad. While I'll miss talking to everyone, sometimes it's good to just let it go.
But anyways, I'll leave now. Sad? Yes. Nervous? Yes. Excited? Yes. Ready for life to meet me? You betcha.
You know I can't say much that hasn't been said. Devastation, death, loss, all words placed in the headlines and shown at a rapid pace. Then we forget a bit. We forgot about our Gulf, we forget about those overseas fighting, we forget famine, we forget suffering. We choose not to look at the harsh light of life; it's a struggle, biologically, socially, emotionally. Somedays less than others, but a struggle none the less. And for what? Well, I'm not sure to be honest, that's too "What's the meaning of life?" for me and I, for one, choose not to conjecture rather than to say "Lunch in 30? Dinner at 6? Tea at 8?"
Japan is famous for its cherry blossoms. They burst forth towards spring, and then they shatter in a matter of weeks. Explosive beauty, and a violent fall. But regardless of tsunami's, earthquakes, loss, death, devastation, they still bloom. For who? For everyone and no one all at the same time.
Environmentalism is public thanks, in part, to controversy and arguments. But I'm pretty sure "all press is good press" applies well to this scenario. The fact is, people are talking about it which validates its message.
My thoughts on the matter, however, pose the question, "Why is Environmentalism political?" It has come to be associated with a certain set of people: White, liberal, pretentious, dirty, "hippies" are some of the adjectives that come to mind. I'm not sure how this stereotype was set up, and I think it'd be interesting to see it's origins, but maybe another time.
To be brief, the environment transcends politics because it's not a human construct. Yes, it's influenced by the actions of humans (and I'm not talking climate change here), but it existed before we did and will continue to long after we're gone. The biosphere doesn't care if you're liberal or conservative, Keynesian or otherwise, because it isn't some great "Mother Earth" as it's so often pinned to be, caring for its creation. In fact, the "care" we seem to receive is actually a brutal struggle in which humanity has to some degree, tailored natural cycles to work in its favor. The Earth does not freely give its fruits and vegetables to be nice, we get our nice shiny fruits because we work for them. So let me say first, go humanity! We are a part of nature but we are also working to survive in it.
We work to survive. But sometimes, we miss the whole point of survival. We take the land we have worked to hard to cultivate, and sterilize it with fertilizer and pesticides. We take our houses which we have worked hard to build, and fill them with toxic chemicals that fill our lungs. Pollution and disease also transcend politics. Whether you are a democrat or a republican, you can die from carbon monoxide poisoning; your children can still be born with birth defects from lead and mercury in the water. You will choke on diesel exhaust regardless of who you voted for. Anthropocentric ideals say no, reality says yes.
What I'm trying to get at here is that Environmentalism is a political issue, and it shouldn't be. Caring for yourself, caring for your family, and caring for others should not be debated. Your children have a right to clean air just as they have a right to clean water just as everyone should have a right to "Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness". If you pollute my air, my water, and my land you are denying me these rights. There are fools in our political administration, children in suits arguing as if on a playground. Why is it that the Speaker of our House found it necessary to replace biodegradable packaging in the House cafeteria with Styrofoam weeks before oil rose above $100 a barrel? A power play? I don't think so, I think it was more of a school-yard taunt. In the same vein, why is it that democrats can't see the forest through the trees when small advances can be made in energy efficiency? Why must it be all or nothing? Because one toy isn't enough, they want them all and because of it they end up with nothing.
Ignorance isn't an excuse anymore. Everyone has at least some idea of what they can do to reduce their impact.
Environmentalism has never been a political issue, it's much too big for that, it's a human issue.
I post at length about life here; usually consisting of some musings that ring of Buddhism, Zen, etc... but really they're just my thoughts, my junk, my garbage. Some people like the way they taste and I appreciate that, but really I'm just another unpaid philosopher with a lot of opinions about how things "Should" be. Fine and all, but not really distinguishing. All of these things make up my outlook, but they won't be paying the bills once college is over.
For those of you who know me, you know I study Ecology and Environmental Biology. It's a subject, it's a passion. I'd been relatively uninformed about the subject until senior year of high school where nothing less than an awakening occurred. When the veil of waste, pollution, and mistreatment is lifted, you can't put it back down.
Long back stories on awakening are unnecessary and pretentious, however, so it's really not important to go into detail. At this point in my life I am fairly convinced I want to pursue a career in academia and research. If not for the opportunities than at least for the days off. I want this series to be more than me blabbing about environmentalist ethics. I want it to stir up thoughts, I want the stigma of environmentalism to crack a bit from my doing, and this could be from the lofty cello music I'm listening to, but I want people to change things and foster understanding that environmentalism is not a political statement, it's just living in the best way that you can. A way that fosters growth not only of ourselves but of those around us. A lifestyle of health in greatest sense because as far as I can tell, we can't partition just "our air" or "our water". The water we drink and the air we breathe will eventually touch every living thing on this planet. We can flee to the mountains but we will always be touching ground that everything else must touch as well.
This should be more than me speaking. This should be us speaking, thinking, living.
On a side note, this series will also serve as periodic updates on my upcoming trip to Madagascar to study conservation biology and alternative agricultural techniques with James Madison University. Watch out for updates and clever titles.
I'd like to pick this series back up, seems applicable to do so now.
Just a few short words. I spent the past 30 minutes drinking a cup of green tea I made, staring out the window, doing nothing. That being said, today has been one of the busiest days of my life. I have a lab in just over an hour that will run late into the night and I have to grab dinner beforehand. Running around, working, studying, group meetings, failed meetings, dropped books, food-stained pants, gym, chaos. Were do we find ourselves? Well, right here. Amidst every single hectic bit of it.
College is about coming into our own being, at least it should be. Finding ourselves maybe, clarifying our lives possibly, at least some bit of self-discovery. For some, this comes down to a higher alcohol tolerance. For others, an awakening to the vastness of the world. And for others still, a crisis. Suddenly the world just became much bigger and in much more turmoil from the night before. Revolution, upheaval, war, famine, disasters. Where do we find ourselves? Right here.
I understand that there is strife in the world, and I want to see it first-hand. But for America? I hope we pull ourselves out of this hole we've put ourselves in. But if we don't? The what-if's abound. Personally, I'm tired of worrying about it. If the world stays together, I wake up each morning and make some tea. If the world falls apart, I still wake up each morning. And even if I don't get my tea, that's ok, I still have the view from my window, wherever it may be.
I sincerely wish you all well, and prescribe 10 minutes of window staring, regardless of your view, each busy day you have. Just enjoy the scenery.
I don't like politics. I think they are more often than not a waste of my time to discuss because no one is willing to take a look at another perspective. But here's a shot:
The only perspective I can speak from is my own, and I won't try to speak from another's. But to me, the biggest issue we have today is a lack of personal responsibility. Instead of owning up to our actions, we ask another to, or we ask the government to own up to them for us. It's childish and it doesn't work. An example:
Say we have a company that is a major polluter (we'll use Massey Energy since I'm not fond of them). So we have Massey Energy, a well known polluter and proponent of Mountain Top Removal. We buy our energy from Massey Energy, they receive money from us because we purchase our energy from them. Simple concept, yes? Massey energy pollutes because they have incentive to pollute, they are rewarded with multi-billion dollar revenues for polluting. The pollution then affects our health and we start to take notice. We rally, we sign petitions, we protest to get Massey Energy to stop and, low and behold, they don't. So what do we do? We ask the Government to step in. We ask them to solve our problems. They fine Massey, Massey pays, Massey keeps polluting. What's wrong with this picture?
There is a fundamental disconnect. Massey Energy profits = our payments. We pay them to pollute and then ask them to stop, but why would they? It's a great deal for them. Yes the government has a hand in this with the deep subsidies they offer to companies like Massey but we also forget that the government is elected by us for us. It is not an entity that exists without the general population. So why do we ask the government to do this? Because we don't want to have to make the hard choice. Rather than willfully electing to change companies, even if it costs a bit more, we ask Washington to do it for us. Truth is, it doesn't really work. Let's make an analogy. Say Massey Energy is that big popular 6th grader on the playground and we're average sized 6th graders. The EPA and the Government are the teachers and principals. Massey Energy is liked and/or tolerated because he's the biggest one around, he has some sort of power over us and when he asks for our sandwich, well we better damn well give it to him. Some of us get tired of this bullying, so we ask the teacher to tell him to stop. He/she contacts the principal and Mr. Massey is brought into the office. He gets his slap on the wrist and goes on his way. He still gets what he wants, he just has to deal with a bit more bullshit now that the principal has his eye on him. No big deal.
The converse to this is that the peers of the bully, the ones who provide him his power and influence, just stop putting up with it. Total social isolation. Sure, he can tolerate it for a bit based on the ego and self-confidence he has stored up, but even that wears thin after while. He now has two options, fade into the oblivion of being an outcast, or change. If he is reformed, he is reaccepted and things go along smoothly.
Business works the same way, if the consumer says "I don't like this, I won't be doing business with you anymore" the producer must change or fall under. This only occurs without the government saying "Errr... Well, here's some extra cash to keep you afloat until they change their mind". Environmentalism is directly inhibited by the government's unwillingness to let us, the consumer, sink what companies fail to meet our ecological standards. Products change because we want them to change. Cage free eggs, organic produce and meats, all of these products have become more prevalent because the consumer is more informed and willing to say "enough is enough" to the producer. The market fixes these issues. It's thus our personal responsibility to say "I'M DONE" when companies don't live up to the environmental and social standards we should demand.
This doesn't fix everything, but it does make sense here and there.
Mythology was one of my favorite things to read while I was growing up. The Norse, Greek, and Roman Gods battling it out, Hercules and his feats, Pegasus, etc... I thought it all was great. The plot line the character development, spot on!
Then again, I had the same view of Christianity and the stories of the Old and New Testament. What great plot! The Creation, the Flood! What drama and suspense! And even now I enjoy the story, I enjoy the Ramayana and Bhagavad-Gita with all of its imagery and poetry. I hope to read the Quran as well to understand the story there too. Buddhism even, the myths of Buddha's birth, life, Enlightenment and death. All great stories!
So what makes a myth a myth? In my view, a myth is an explanation for the world we live in that you don't believe in. Because while many Christians may hear the Hindu story of creation, of Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma and say, "Wow! Great story, very creative". Surely Hindus hear the parable of the Loaves and Fishes and say "Wow! Great story, very creative".
I often have the question, "Do you believe in God?" thrown at me. Buddhism doesn't give me an answer, and that's why I like it because, to be honest, to give you an answer would be presumptuous. Answering that question "yes" or "no" would be making my relative view absolute, and I try to avoid that as much as possible. It's as if I say a cup is white while you say it's egg-shell. Your opinion vs. mine. Who's to say really? We each see the same cup, we just interpret what we see in different ways.
I won't conjecture how I got here. It's mind-boggling to think of the precise order of events that led me here right now, much less all of humanity. As a scientist I accept evolution, there's just too much evidence not to. But as for the origin of the Universe? All I can offer is a shoulder shrug; I'm really not too concerned.
It boils down to this: I think life is beautiful and I try to be a good person because really, how can you hate on something so wonderful? Easy for me to say, living in comfort, but it's how I feel and that's the vibe I try to put off. Whatever created the mountains and water, trees and sun, moon and garbage dump. Hats off.
"If God exists, I will chop wood and carry water. If God does not exist, I will chop wood and carry water."
I am ambivalent towards progress most of the time. Mainly because the word "Progress" in and of itself is much too vague. Often it is assumed that "progress" is and must always be forward, that there is some distant goal over the horizon that we must arrive at to become content. This idea has contributed much to the world, both in happiness and in suffering.
Progress is only relative to what we have, had, or wish to have. We progress away from certain energy sources because they are "bad" and move to what is "good", or we progress in our societal values from what was "discriminatory" to "equal". These are arguments made for progress, and I like them. I like the idea of progressing toward energy that does not create a noxious cloud of sulfur dioxide above my head. I like equality and rights for everyone. Good stuff!
But the other side of "progress" is often ignored. It was progress that gave us the Atomic and Hydrogen Bomb. It was progress that produced chemical and biological warfare. I was progress that encouraged humanity to clear land for "the good of the people" rather than the good of the Earth. This is also progress, just not what one normally considers upon hearing the word.
I am a scientist, I hope to continue being one in the future; it's something I enjoy and it's something I'm good at. That being said, science is not the cure all we have made it out to be. Science encourages us to strive forward, to push and push and push which, given the right attitude is great. That is how some of the greatest medicines, building materials, and energy innovations have come to be, by pushing. Science rarely, however, tells us to take a step back and see the big picture, how all the parts, not just the ones WE as an individual care about, come together. Unless we consider the implications of our breakthroughs, we risk creating another Atomic Bomb. That piece of technology, in my opinion, should have never been developed. There were ethics that were overlooked and implications for the future that were ignored. Once a can of worms is opened, you cannot so easily shut the lid. Even more so when the said can promises Power.
I am a Buddhist, I will continue being one in the future; it's something I enjoy and it's something that I can appreciate. Religion gets a bad name a lot of the time. The Crusades, Fundamentalist terrorism, Hate, racism, sexism etc... These apply to all religions, mine included. No faith has been exempt from dark times. But, like the mirror image of science, the opposite side is often ignored. The art, the music, the festivals, the vivifying beauty, the culture. There are many places in the world, India and Japan come to mind most instantly, that the religion and culture are so intermingled, the festivals of India, the respect for nature in Japan, that by dissolving one, we lose the other. I think that is often overlooked when people say "The world would be better without Religion". I think the world would be better without religious politics for sure, because the aforementioned problems are not a result of the faith, they are a result of using the faith as means for social domination and, once again, Power.
So where does that leave us? Well I sit here typing this wearing my Rakusu (See "Jukai") having finished some meditation and later I will work on my engineering homework. Am I a contradiction? I do not believe so. I believe that holding so tightly onto either Science or Religion that we cannot laugh at ourselves or see the virtue of the other is foolish. Grasping onto either makes us the Fundamentalists we so often deplore, be it those who yell from Soapboxes about the Damnation of humanity or those who yell from laboratories about the stupidity of those who have faith. Neither of the above produces peace, dialogue, or understanding. It only produces ignorance. I don't ask that everyone be religious, or have a faith. I only ask that people be understanding and appreciate the fact that faith, religion, or religious philosophy can be realistic and applicable to daily life as well. Nor do I ask for everyone to accept science in its entirety, because then we lose some of the magic of the unknown. Once we have figured everything out (a feat I feel is impossible for humanity and arrogant to assume its possibility) where will the magic and mystery exist? Where will the spirit of life grow when everything is reduced to facts?
As with everything I do, there is always some bit of the Buddha's philosophy imbedded. For this?
Take the middle road and enjoy the mountains on either side of you.
So today I undertook Jukai. What's that you say? You're not up on Zen Buddhist lingo? Well fear not! I shall explain. It's a ceremony where I formally commit to 16 precepts and the lineage of the teacher giving them. It's a pretty big deal and not so much a big deal at the same time. I'm still me, I still have my faults, and really, what did I receive? Some special Mind power? Not really, just some good guidelines that I happened to make a public commitment to.
The "bib" is a "travel-size" robe that I sewed in preparation for this ceremony. It has my new "Dharma Name" written on the back. But really, you could be Myoken just as I now am in the Zen circle. What's in a name, after all?
The ceremony was simple, it was beautiful, it was heart-warming. I teared up a bit here and there, no shame in admitting it, when I was asked to bow to my parents. They have given me so much support, more than I could ever ask for. So thank you Mom, thank you Dad. Also a big thanks to my girlfriend, and to my sister. Every one of you is amazing.
So here I am precepted, named, and still Taylor.
Like one of my Teachers so eloquently put it, "This is not a raising up, we do not become saints just because we take these precepts. If anything, we lower ourselves down, if only to put the world on our shoulders and say 'I am here for you'".
On the flip side of "Flockocopolypse" i.e. the huge numbers of animals dying all over the world, I've been asked my opinion on the cause. Granted I am no scientist, but there are some who have stated its more due to strange weather patterns than ya know, the four horsemen.
But that brings me to the main point of this. As an environmentalist and a biologist, I often get thrown the question "So Global Warming... *chuckle*" and as I roll my eyes with EXTRA gusto I am forced to admit, I don't argue for the existence of Global Warming anymore.
I can hear you know, "But TAYLOR!!!! Dude, c'mon you're, yo
u know, Buddhist and sort of Liberal right? Who the hell are you fighting for?!" and I know I know. But chill out friend with poor diction, here's why:
There's no use trying to beat the information into people's head who don't want to hear it. I can't make anyone believe in Climate Change anymore than I can make anyone believe that I'm actually Krishna in the body of a suburban teenager. All I seem to get is information on politicians, not scientists, who say "NO NO NO *plugs ears* LALALALALLA". So basically I'm tired of it.
My other, more effective approach, I feel is the give people something they can see. Like this:
This is the slurry that is created in making coal "clean". Sorry about the shock, I'm sure a similar feeling arose when you found out Fig Newtons contain more bug per weight than any other food except, you know, bugs.
This is the kind of stuff environmentalists need to bring up. Tangible problems. People can deny deny deny that the weather is changing based on the temperature outside, but that CANNOT deny this. We create it. We leave it. We suffer from cadmium, selenium, and mercury poisoning because of it. Plug your ears if you like, it won't make a bit of difference when things like this end up in your water. So, Climate Change or not, we really just need to stop fucking up the Earth.