loving-kindness for my enemy (why? and how?)

November 7th, 2020

Before diving into the topic, I want to clearly state that I don't support anything that our 45th president has done during his time in the White House. I will avoid political matters because (1) they are not crucial to this discussion, and (2) I am not a political pundit. I am not sure how social justice became political. Still, I do feel an urge to state I support the modern social justice movement's demands—equality of law for everyone. The crimes against humanity from the 45th president are not worth defending in any way, and I want to make that clear. This post is an active meditation for myself, so I am not writing this to convince anyone to stop being angry at this person. I enjoyed writing about this because this topic is not borrowed from someone else; rather, it is mostly an independent idea that came from my meditation practice during October. (I will save the topic of is there anything as independent thought for another post)

The visceral reaction that the 45th president's name brings up in my mind is the equivalent to Jay-Z's contempt for Christopher Columbus: I'm anti-Santa Maria / Only Christopher we acknowledge Wallace ('Oceans' from Magna Carta... Holy Grail). I will try my best to be objective in this discussion, but you can probably already tell how I feel about this person.

I want first to explain why I feel sorry for this person and, more importantly, why I want to practice compassion to a person that does not deserve our compassion. 

Why I feel sorry for my enemy?

To start, I have absolute trust in the eternal law of the universe: 'you reap what you sow.' Reading that back, I see how hipster that sounds, so let me elaborate further.

This trust in the universe is not wishful thinking. Still, it is from my personal experience in life: engaging in wholesome thoughts, speech, and actions will lead to wholesome results, and engaging in unwholesome leads to unwholesome results. The key here seems to be we don't know when the metaphorical seed (thought/speech/action) will be ready to reap (result on the mental condition of humanity). Thankfully we don't need to wait for the universe to reward the 45th president for his conduct in life, the rewards of his unconscious actions can be seen several times over each day as he tweets his feelings for the entire world. His destitute mental health might not offset the physical suffering he has caused humanity and the world, but it is a start. Although the inner child in me wants to relish in schadenfreude as this person self-destructs into oblivion, the rational side of me is telling me to chose the higher moral ground and show empathy.

To state briefly, I feel sorry for him because he has been unable to understand the enteral law of the universe even after being born into the highest levels of material wealth. While most of his current mental state is his fault, I can't avoid mentioning all he did in life was chase the American dream (which has somehow morphed into simplifying human experience into just a money optimization calculation).

The 45th president's lack of inner self-awareness, much less self-reflection, put him in a mental plane of existence below modern humanity. His thoughts are the flowering of our species' worst tendencies: greed, hate, and ignorance. I have realized that no one can force growth in another individual; it is up to each individual to put in the effort to grow as a human being. 

To give a better metaphor, I want to turn to a recent novel I just read called Flatland (Abbott).

The novel explores geometric figures that think and speak and have all too human emotions, across four different levels of reality—based on the physical dimensions of space. The plot consists of a sphere entering into Flatland and trying to convince a square that is there is a third dimension (that can only be seen in Spaceland). The Sphere philosophizes about the concept first, but after seeing the Square's confusion, he physically takes the Square to Spaceland to convince him, and it works. The plot thickens as the Square tries to convince the Sphere of a world that is higher than three dimensions, which the Sphere immediately declares as ludicrous.

There is an interesting conversation that captured the utter futility of trying to help out of the mental poverty of the 45th president in the story. The Sphere takes the Square to Pointland (which is made up of no dimensions) to show a Point's life.
"Look yonder," said my Guide, "in Flatland thou hast lived; of Lineland thou hast received a vision; thou hast soared with me to the heights of Spaceland; now, in order to complete the range of thy experience, I conduct thee downward to the lowest depth of existence, even to the realm of Pointland, the Abyss of No dimensions.

"Behold yon miserable creature. That Point is a Being like ourselves, but confined to the non-dimensional Gulf. He is himself his own World, his own Universe; of an other than himself he can form no conception; he knows not Length, nor Breadth, nor Height, for he has had no experience of them; he has no cognizance even of the number Two; nor has he a thought of Plurality; for he is himself his One and All, being really Nothing. Yet mark his perfect self-contentment, and hence learn this lesson, that to be self-contended is to be vile and ignorant., and that to aspire is better than to be blindly and impotently happy. Now listen."

He ceased; and there arose from the little buzzing creature a tiny, low, monotonous, but distinct tinkling, as from one of your Spaceland phonographs, from which I caught these words, "Infinite beatitude of existence! It is; and there is none else beside It."

"What," said I, "does the puny creature mean by 'it'? "He means himself," said the Sphere: "have you not noticed before now, that babies and babyish people who cannot distinguish themselves from the world, speak of themselves in the Third Person? But hush!'

"It fills all Space," continued the little soliloquizing Creature, "and what It fills, It is. What It thinks, that It utters; and what It utters, that It hears, and It itself is Thinker, Utterer, Hearer, Thought, Word, Audition; it is the One, and yet the All in All. Ah, the happiness, ah, the happiness of Being!"

"Can you not startle the little thing out of its complacency?" said I. "Tell it what it really is, as you told me; reveal to it the narrow limitations of Pointland, and lead it up to something higher." "That is no easy task," said my Master; "try you."

Hereon, raising my voice to the uttermost, I addressed the Point as follows:

"Silence, silence, contemptible Creature. You call yourself the All in All, but you are the Nothing; your so-called Universe is a mere speck in a Line, and a Line is a mere shadow as compared with—" "Hush, hush, you have said enough," interrupted the Sphere, "now listen, and mark the effect of your harangue on the King of Pointland."

The lustre of the Monarch, who beamed more brightly than ever upon hearing my words, shewed clearly that he retained his complacency; and I had hardly ceased when he took up his strain again. "Ah the joy, ah, the joy of Thought! What can It not achieve by thinking! Its own Thought coming to Itself, suggestive of Its disparagement, thereby to enhance Its happiness! Sweet rebellion stirred up to the result in triumph! Ah, the divine creative power of the All in One! Ah, the joy, the joy of Being!

"You see," said my Teacher, "how little your words have done. So far as the Monarch understands them at all, he accepts them as his own—for he cannot conceive of any other except himself—and plumes himself upon the variety of 'Its Thought' as an instance of creative Power. Let us leave this God of Pointland to the ignorant fruition of his omnipresence and omniscience; nothing that you or I do can rescue him from his self-satisfaction."

Compassion through Loving-Kindness (Metta) Meditation

I think the rest of this article will be me trying not to sound like Michael Scott. I won't lie; I tried my best not to speak unwholesome speech in this post, and while my blunt analysis above comes across as harsh, it is much better than the words that I deleted from my draft. It is time to try to answer the second and more complicated point of this post:

Why and how we can show compassion to our enemy, especially when it is clear the enemy does not deserve our sympathy.

I have thought about this question a lot while thinking about this post in recent weeks. This question started a few weeks ago when I began to deliberately practice loving-kindness meditation developed by Gautama, the Buddha. I mentally check out when people try to sell me spirituality, so I won't bore you with that garbage, but I need to provide a brief explanation of loving-kindness meditation for me to go further. Thankfully, the Buddha was not a god; instead, he was a human being, a logician, and a  physician who found the answer to our mental woes using simple internal investigation tools and nothing more.

Loving-kindness (metta) mediation is a practice that involves intentional wishing the following four qualities of being:

(1) May I be happy
(2) May I be safe
(3) May I be healthy
(4) may I be at peace

The context starts at yourself (which is assumed to be the most accessible starting point) and slowly expands to encompass all of humanity (here is a standard order: yourself, family/close friends, strangers, strangers you disagree with, the enemy).The quality of love required by the practice is the love a mom has for her only child.
While practicing this mediation for a few weeks, I noticed something exciting, showing compassion to people who I like or who agree with me is not real compassion. My genuine compassion comes out in front of people that create intense negative emotions in me. Nipsey Hussle conveyed this concept much more eloquently, so I will give him his flowers, "When it hit(s) the fan, you get to find out who you are." When you are face to face with people you don't like; your true self comes out. I find this fascinating because it provides an easy way to check-in with how compassionate you really are.

In sum, the only way I know my compassion is growing is the mental strain needed to stretch myself past the edge of my current level of compassion. 

Regarding my experience with loving-kindness meditation to our 45th president, as expected, it has been challenging. While I have never had any physical injures like broken bones, I think those would be easier to cope with mentally than this task I am pursuing—which essentially requires me to override the biological urge of 'us vs. them' tribalism that has been used by our species for thousands of years. I have started taking pride in following through to what I aspire, so I know I will get to the point where I can show compassion to this person; whether it takes me a year or three decades is not crucial. In the words of the great modern philosopher from Philadelphia, Will Smith, "Make a choice, you just decide, what's it's gonna be, who you're going to be, how you're going to do it, just decide, and then from that point, the universe is gon' get out your way."

Although the challenge is tough,  I am enjoying it because (1) I like completing difficult things, and (2) actively trying to expand my compassion to strangers is pretty foundational to fulfilling my legacy. Wrapping this up, the point of this post was not to somehow help our 45th president; this post was really to help myself. I can't think of a better way to combat this country's political polarization (I know I said I would not go political, but I need to wrap this post up, so please bear with me for these last few sentences).

A few moments ago, one of the major news channels called the 2020 presidential election showed scenes of elated crowds forming in Philly's streets. Watching those videos, I was happy for them, but I realized I couldn't bring myself to share their joy; I want to feel their enthusiasm, but all I can think about is the 70 million fanatics that voted for the 45th president. How can I enjoy this moment, when I know the mental suffering that consumed an entire political group—for four long and painful years—will move to the other political ideology?

As the commander-in-tweets fades from the public limelight, my loving-kindness meditation will need pivot to his 70 million disciples. As Nipsey would say "The Marathon Continues".

Thanks for reading!

May you be happy,
May you be safe,
May you be healthy,
May you be at peace.

Death Contemplation 2: Death is Certain Album Review

November 1st, 2020

Preface: This is the second post of a ten part series where I explore the contemplation of death through art, philosophy and spirituality. I am hoping to achieve two things with this work: (1) a better appreciation of life by fully accepting Death-the only certain event in our lives-and (2) to experience the Deathless described by the Buddha.

To call Royce Da 5'9" just a hip-hop artist or rapper is a huge disservice to his work. When I think of Royce I actually think of several labels before rapper: storyteller, wordsmith, philosopher. Royce is a Detroit based rapper who has been producing independent music for 25 years. This post will summarize my review of Royce's 2004 album titled DEATH IS CERTAIN.

Before I go any further I would like to say I had some difficulty in reviewing the album because I am not used to reading imaginative literature. Since I can't say I fully understand the entire album at the point, I am not going to waste time in criticizing it. Instead I will try to summarize the work and explore the themes that resonated with me.

To summarize my understanding of the album up in one sentence: It is a contemplative self-reflection by Royce based on his experiences growing up in Detroit pursuing an independent hip-hop artist profession.
Given the album title I expected Death to play a prominent role in the piece and I was not disappointed. A pleasant discovery I made while annotating the lyrics on paper was that Royce used Death in two different contexts-professional and personal. 

The profession context led Royce to reflect on his impending Death as a music artist. Hip-hop frequently produces “one-hit” wonders that have their moment in the limelight and quickly vanish into a blackhole. Royce in his song “T.O.D.A.Y.” asks his fans will that be his fate as well? He struggles to cope with the fact the media and fans can metaphorically kill his career at any moment.
[Pre-Hook: Ingrid Smalls]
If I was to die today
Would you pick me up because I'm down and out?
Na, na, na

[Hook: Royce ]
"T" represents the time when my hope fades
"O" is just a sign on my mind on my broke days
"D" is for the dangerous way that the flow stray
"A" represents the answer to the question I'm askin'
"Y" is it today I should (die)
- Royce Da 5'9", "T.O.D.A.Y."

Thankfully, Royce rises above the impending death of his music career by de-coupling his motivation for the art from the validation and accolades he receives for his work.

"I do this music for me, I take time and put pride in it
This music is me, it's no ruining' me
I'm the truest MC, as hot as you need me to be, as cool as can be
If you was true as me, then this for you, but I do it for I
I do this music for me, I take time and put pride in it
This music is me, it's no ruining me
I'm the truest MC, as hot as you need me to be, as cool as can be
If you was true as me, then this for you, but I do it for me"
- Royce Da 5'9", “I & Me”

As we reach the end of the album, Royce’s contemplation of Death fittingly focuses more on his own personal morality.

"Everybody goes
Why all you front? The big picture stays the same
You can change the frame all you want
You can pretend all you wanna pretend
It's all gon' violently come to an end
Everybody goes
Die soldiers, try to live for the moment
We all borrow tomorrow, this is what God hones us
The biggest Indian giver, he gon' take it back
Erase you, I'm statin' facts to everybody"
- Royce Da 5'9", Everybody goes

"Death is certainly gon' catch you
Whoever special to you will be left hurt
This is the cold, harshness of life
Just when it unfolds, you lucky to grow old, life"
- Royce Da 5'9", Death is Certain Pt. 2 (It Hurts)

My takeaways: I really enjoyed the album and appreciate Royce for discussing an unpopular topic in a mainstream media.

Reviewing his album has helped set a good foundation for me to take this topic even further. In future posts I want to explore how contemplating on the inevitability of death can create the motivation to search for the miraculous: a meaningful life.

Please check of the album on any of the streaming platforms!
Royce Da 5'9" - Death is Certain

Why Death deserves more respect than God

October 27th, 2020
Source: The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Berman

I have been contemplating death a lot lately. I can’t tell if this is the worst time to make this post or the best time given our current pandemic. I can’t imagine the pain of losing a loved one due to a virus that could have been curtailed through better actions by the people in power but I also know it is necessary for me to understand what will become of me in just a few more years….

Osho and Buddha really inspired this post so I need to give their flowers before going any further.

Stranger: What in life is worth thinking about most?
OSHO: There is only one thing which is worth thinking about and that is death.
-  From the Independent Mind by OSHO
"Like massive boulders,
mountains pressing against the sky,
moving in from all sides,
crushing the four directions,
so aging and death
come rolling over living beings:
noble warriors, priests, merchants,
workers, outcastes, and scavengers.
They spare nothing.
They trample everything.

Here elephant troops can hold no ground,
nor can chariots or infantry,
nor can a battle of wits
or wealth win out.

So a wise person,
seeing his own good,
steadfast, secures confidence
in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha.

One who practices the Dhamma
in thought, word, and deed,
receives praise here on earth
and after death rejoices in heaven. 

 - The simile of the mountain, Pabbatopama Sutta by Gautama Buddha

This topic is not easy to digest for humanity and Ernest Becker beautifully described all of the way our species has tried to cope with the fact that death is certain in his classic book, “The Denial of Death”.

To make it slightly more palatable I want to bring up a thoughtful move called “The Seventh Seal” that I watched last night.  The movie describes a knight who is returning home from the Crusades while trying to avoid the plague that is quickly surrounding all of Europe.  After waking up from a nap on the beach he sees Death standing a few feet away from him. When he asks why Death is there, Death responds it is your time to leave. In an effort to save his own life from Death the Knight proposes a chess game for his life. Death, a true contemplative accepts the offer and the chess game unravels over the course of the movie while the audience is peppered with the various existential thoughts related to life and death.

Some of my favorite lines from the movie are below:

“Your life, o fool hangs by a thread. Your time is short.”

“In our fear (of death) we make an idol and call it God.”

“My whole life has been nothing but futile wandering and a great deal of words without meaning.”

Actor: (climbs up a tree in a forest to sleep until the morning)
Death: (death comes by his tree and starts sawing the tree down)
Actor: (Actor notices and starts yelling at Death and asks him what he is doing)
Death: I am cutting down your tree. You time is up.
Actor: You can’t! I don’t have time.
Death: Don’t have time? (laughs)
Actor: No, I have my performance.
Death: Cancelled on account of death.
Actor: what about my contract?
Death: terminated.

Death: (checkmates the Knight in their chess game)
Death: When we next meet, the hour will strike for you…
Knight: And you will reveal your secrets?
Death: I have no secrets.
Knight: So you know nothing?!
Death: I have nothing to tell.

Why I respect Death more than God (that is described in religion texts)

  1. Death does not seem to judge your life…he just stops by when the time is ready. That certainty of death strangely give life more meaning to me.
  2. Death's personality seems far removed from God's in the sense that Death does not embody unskillful human qualities. It seems to me that religious texts describe God as confusingly having both extraordinary qualities that surpass human comprehension and also the mundane and unwholesome qualities that are close to humanity’s chest: anger, contempt, judgement. I respect Death because he leaves me alone to live my life which is much more appealing that thinking of God by labeling every single action I do as either “right” or “wrong”.
  3. While I believe both God and Death are both pure introverts, humanity can't seem to accept that God does not want to talk to them with words. On the other end, no one wants any conversation with Death and that is a shame because his communion is much easier to do. First of all, Death has nothing to preach to you so there are no need for words. All he notes to show to you is the metaphorical time clock that is slowly reaching zero.

For those reason I can respect Death and I will keep him in my mind on a daily basis. While I am not interested in convincing you to love Death I hope this post will help you reflect more on this topic.