Archive for category Religion and Morality

There is a reason that non cult-ish religions agree that the road to wisdom is difficult…

Recent NYT article on London meditation anti-Guru moving to New York has inspired some thoughts as to why i don’t buy new age, 10 minute meditation session, end your anxiety without some sort of spirituality/faith/religion. One of the main tenets of buddhism that has made it into the mainsteam, LA fitness/YMCA yoga, pop meditation guru, “new age buddhist-influenced philosophy of life” is the need/ability to control and let go of your thoughts.

I’ve recently been thinking just how important that tenet is and whether/what is missing from this one step mantra to modern life success

1) Our thoughts give us meaning/define (obviously) the way we look at the world

1a) obviously we’ve got to be sort of attached to some thoughts to be used as building blocks in order to create meaning so that we can live and invest in our lives in consistent ways. These building blocks are necessary so that we ultimately can do things that improve our daily life – you know innovation, technology, family/friend time, humanity, and world peace.

2)our anxiety/stress/otherwise unhelpful thoughts keeping us from the wonderful improvement above might be do from lack of control in the outermost layer of building blocks (aka a bad roof) or from some deeper layer (like a bad foundation) or from multiple layers (consistently bad concrete/molding/anything else in a house that goes throughout).

2a) For the really stressed, angry, anxiety driven, cruel, fearful people out there –how many layers of building blocks do we need to let go/control/sift through?

2b) That is some hard work.

2c) Given how deep most of our problem are and that most of us are subject to the bad foundation and bad multiple layers problem, ten minutes of thinking and letting go when you’re “away from it all” will not help.

3) Given that most of our problems are relational and we’re hoping for brilliant thoughts to explain how we can better approach these relationships in practical ways; (sometimes telling someone “just love them like you love yourself” isn’t the most clear cut direction of what to say/how to act/how to think about a person that will improve the relations —being patronizing/motherly/fatherly/sisterly/disciplinarian sometimes doesn’t work); any practice of letting go of one’s thoughts would also need to cultivate practical helpful thoughts…which again requires rebuilding thought building blocks. (reorientation)

3a) list of new age spirituality needs based off this short, superficial analysis

a. practice letting bad thoughts go

b. learning to identify which thoughts are bad – especially the non-obvious ones

c. building a complementary framework to identify the bad thoughts we didn’t know were bad/interfering

d. getting the new ideas to build the complementary framework

e. practice sifting to find and cultivate innovative new ideas which are practical and specifically life applicable to build and to build from the complementary and ultimately newly adopted framework.

f. More than ten minutes of quiet time during your lunch break because reorienting the way you see the world and how you think  about the world is not easy.

4) on the other hand, if mr. anti-guru is helping the most successful people, then perhaps these are people who have learned to orient their building blocks in such a way that they can get their jobs done with minimal emotional/moral/physical(Thought) interference and need the meditation merely to get to the next level of success.

5) in which case, Mr. anti- Guru, you are helping people be better at doing what people already do really really well in their current context and are unhelpful to these same people in helping them be better at things they do quite badly, sort of badly, or in a mediocre way. Changing the roof probably won’t help the foundation for long.

Despite the major weaknesses with religions in general and each religion specifically, we might agree that religions/spiritualities that make people the happiest (i know its a vague term but I’m thinking somewhere along the lines of “i have a meaningful life” ) seem to  converge on the point that it is not easy to cultivate that type of happiness everyday/all the time. Of course it need not be a neverending struggle nor a wait til death struggle, but perhaps it lies in the happy medium.

Disclaimer – all i know about mr. anti-guru and his practices is from the recent NYT article so his article inspired me to think through basic meditation rather than informedly critique his practices.


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Ad-free space and narrative preferences

Advertisements are everywhere. As human attention has become the essential precursor to creating product demand and at times even the product itself, advertisements have become a continuous presence in all aspects of life: news articles, (electronic) letters, movies, public transports, even on cars and urban apartment buildings.

However, some spaces seem surprisingly resistant to being converted into ad space. Important parameters for potential ad space should be the frequency of information-transmitting interactions with potential customers and the “stickiness” of these interactions in terms of memorability and actual conversion into product sales. Based on these criteria one would think that human names, funerals, classroom interiors and high school course materials would be prime targets for marketing companies, but I am not aware of major successes in placing ads in those spaces. Narrowly considered, this seems irrational, as “being made aware of a brand” seems a small price that we happily pay every time we venture into public space or open a website. On the other hand, the gain from allowing a Microsoft ad in the corner of the blackboard, for instance, might be a substantial increase in funds for our childrens’ education, a major concern for most people. I suggest that the explanation might lie in constructing human preferences more broadly.

This paradox is similar to other situations, like child labor or perhaps kidney transplants, that I recently discussed with my esteemed co-blogger: We intuitively feel that these are sacred/heroic spaces of emotional import upon which the reality of a world with many tradeoffs and hardship should not intrude. This meta-preference for being part of a more pleasant narrative of the human condition seems to be strong enough to outweigh the elevated living standards and happiness that could be gained by having more money in a less romantic version of our tale of humanity. To put it in a somewhat crude metaphor, we would rather starve and sacrifice a lamb in the temple than eat the lamb and be made to question our mythical view of the world.

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Marx = Next Generation of Abrahamic Faith? (not meant seriously)

just began skimming the highly recommended article (highly recommended = gregor recommended), Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth, and in my swirling, wine-stirred mind I wondered if in fact Marxism responds to an understanding of what the economics of the spiritual man might be.  Marx was very much influenced by Hegel and spent much of his early scholarship studying and adapting Hegel, in fact “turning Hegel on his head” (check out Marx’ essay on the Philosophy of Right (or it may have been of History for the quote). Hegel’s scholarship in many ways extended from a Christian movement (Wikipedia Leibniz if you don’t believe me) that began to conceptualize Christianity in a less literal, less dogmatic way. Hegel’s ideal world, and what he predicted man was working towards (while in many ways skewed towards his love of monarchy), was a humanity so interconnected that the top enlightened man could understand what is best for society as a whole and govern. Marx, while he may have denounced religion as some ‘bourgeois manipulation’, may have continued Hegel’s scholarship of imagining what the world would be if everyone reached their most enlightened movement – for Hegel, it was the appropriate place in the society and in line with perhaps religiously led societal places and for Marx, it was a unveiling of the truth.

so back to the paper — perhaps Marx’ and socialism’s failure in economics is not indicative of the fact that Marx did not understand human nature so much as his optimism that humanity could reach a deeper spiritual level…..

Ok so logic shortcut here: Hegel (let’s make Christianity more spiritual but still very much influenced by social order) –> Marx (everyone recognizes that they are all part of one unit and can understand one another entirely) ==> very similar to buddhist/hindu spirituality.

Clincher: Marx = next Christian Prophet?

I swear I’ll actually read the rest of the paper but I only have so much time to excuse my whimsical Marxist thoughts with my college student status.

(Special Thanks to Sam Harris’ End of Faith, a book I almost completely disagree with but which contained (for me, unsuccessfully) compelling logical musings that partially inspired these thoughts – see his last chapter before epilogue on Western Spirituality). Obvious potential problem with the argument(above not his)  –> less dogmatic, world vision of how Christianity explains the world = buddhist/hindu spirituality? )

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