Aha! No black holes! ???

Here’s an interesting ‘graph from an even more interesting article:

Black holes are frustrating, though, because their extreme gravity exposes the major inadequacy in our current scientific understanding of the universe – we don’t know how to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. With general relativity, we can make accurate predictions about objects with certainty, but on the tiny scale of quantum mechanics it’s only possible to talk about the behaviour of objects in terms of probability. When we do the maths on what happens to things that fall into black holes, using relativity gives results that break quantum mechanics; the same goes vice versa.

–From: New Statesman, Stephen Hawking now thinks...

Another astounding note: “The choice for physicists, once again, was to: a) accept the firewall, and throw out general relativity, or b) accept that information dies in black holes, and quantum mechanics is wrong.”

Perhaps a better explanation of it, tho longer, is found here: Nature – Steven Hawking: there are no black holes…

The interesting thing about all this to me is that it shows just how confused science is about what’s actually going on in the universe. Despite the fact that our old science and a little general relativity work pretty well on the practical scale so that rockets shot at the moon actually get there and such, it’s much less satisfying on the philosophical level. It doesn’t work at all when it comes to answering really fundamental questions like ‘what is the source of gravity?’ or ‘what is the nature of light?’ or ‘how do we know that what we know is accurate?’.

From another source, an even better formulation of the problem:

As I have mentioned in previous articles, physics is fractured. It has produced two theories that are shining beacons of modern science: quantum mechanics and general relativity. Both are accurate to the limits of our ability to measure them, and both have predicted results that were years ahead of their time and later experimentally verified. However, the similarities end there. At the heart of quantum mechanics is a mathematical framework of linear equations that describes the very small bits of the universe as probabilistic. General relativity is described by an elegant set of highly nonlinear equations that detail the very big in a completely deterministic manner: polar opposites that stand in stark contrast with one another. This discrepancy has reared its ugly head every now and again, but one place it is clearly demonstrated is the “information loss paradox.”

— From Matt Ford in ArsTechnica A potential solution…

Though this paradox seems to have been resolved here: Astrophysics — it’s still a basic contradiction between General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, and leaves many questions unanswered. And raises as many new ones as it answers, at least for me:

… presenting physicists with a stark choice: either accept that firewalls exist and that general relativity breaks down, or accept that information is lost in black holes and quantum mechanics is wrong1. “For us, firewalls seem like the least crazy option, given that choice,” says Marolf.

The failings of science are even more pronounced when we get into questions about why and how all this is even here in the first place. Personally, I’ve always preferred the ancient formula — “What happens at the end of a kalpa? The Iron Tree blooms in the Void.”

Buddhist Christians…

Interesting article on the Buddhist Broadcasting Network – I didn’t even know Buddhists broadcasted! – about Christians finding support for living authentic lives, and support for their Christianity, in Buddhist teachings and practice.

I found this sentence especially interesting:

Sandra turns to Buddhism because she believes that its teaching of no-ego or no-self, when understood experientially and not just intellectually, is itself an essential dimension of the journey to God.

Sandra is a Catholic nun who leads retreats. She says:

“Christianity and Buddhism agree that the spiritual pilgrimage involves an absolute letting go, or dropping away, of all that a person knows of self and God. Indeed, this is what happened in Jesus as he lay dying on the cross, and perhaps at many moments leading up to the cross. Only after the dying can new life emerge, in which there is in some sense ‘only God’ and no more ‘me.’ I see the cross as symbolizing this dying of self and resurrecting of new life that must occur within each of us. Buddhism helps me enter into that dying of self.”

I do think that there are some important theoretical and practical differences between Christianity and Buddhism, but it is interesting to read about these parallels and how non-dogmatic Christians are learning to access these helpful things from the old guy’s teachings!

The illusion of separation

[The Signal Blanket: Danger! By Paul Goble, The Coming of the Iron Horse]

How can we live authentically, fully human, fully divine, following a path of right living, in this world of seemingly insurmountable problems – violence, hatred, degradation, destruction?

The problems in our world today all begin with our mistaken idea that we humans are special, and special in a very special way, special because we are separate from the rest of the natural world, separate from each other. We even divide mind from body within ourselves.

This notion of the discrete, separate, independently existing self is deeply embedded in our culture, including our language, and thus embedded in all our ways of thinking – so much so that it’s difficult to talk about it clearly. It’s even more difficult to get people to think about it clearly.

Just the words “nature” and “environment” seem to imply that this separation is normal, that this is “just the way it is”. We don’t see that these words encode a dualistic world-view, a basic assumption that has grown stronger and stronger as our societies took step after step away from the connections with our intimate nature, beginning with language and symbolic culture and expanding with quantification, agriculture, science, and industry.

I have addressed the issue of separation and connection in an earlier blog post, but this is such a difficult issue to discuss that I think it’s worth a second, mostly new, approach.

Why is the idea of separation important and how is it related to our discussion of living authentically?

First, because we believe ourselves to be discrete, separate, independently existing entities, we see “nature” – all other beings and processes – as “resources” – things for our human use, to be controlled and subjugated for our purposes, and having no essential worth or meaning otherwise. Thus, as this idea has grown in strength and influence over human culture, our impact on the earth has been more and more harmful. Today we callously and arrogantly threaten the very biosphere that supports our life.

Second, because of this idea of separate-ness, we think we can behave in pretty much any way we like towards other humans and not really suffer any consequences. Competition – the whole “every man for himself” ethos – arose out this notion, as did the ideas of possession and property. Which leads pretty quickly to murder, war, torture, genocide, and all the other forms of violence that are endemic today. (Only because we are threatened by some outside power if we don’t do “right” is there reason to do otherwise, so when that belief in an outside power wanes, all kinds of horrors arise.)

Third, this conception of self causes us to misinterpret most of what has come down to us in the spiritual realm. We set ‘God’ outside of matter, outside the very universe, in some realm of ‘other’; earlier humans clearly saw God as in matter, in everything. We misunderstand the idea of animism as meaning that things have a spirit when it really means everything is spirit. We think, or believe, that we have a soul, and this soul is what’s important so we disregard the body. Or else we don’t believe that we have a soul, and thus we live only for the body. Either way, we’re equally lost, because we don’t understand that we are soul, we are spirit. This separation of the sacred from the everyday world again leads us to feel free to exploit that world of matter, that world of “other” to our own ends without regard for our impact; it allows us to set up one version of morality in the spiritual realm and another one for the material.

Fourth, we are unable to have true compassion for others within this dualistic conception of self/other. What passes for compassion in most of our religious or secular conceptions today is a weak notion of what we “should” do – either out of fear of punishment or desire for rewards – in this life or the next – or out of a wish to elevate ourselves in our own eyes and the eyes of our brothers and sisters.


All of these various ideas blend and intertwine in our ways of thinking and in our actions individually and collectively, creating a human culture that wreaks untold havoc on itself, on all the other living beings on the planet, and on the very underpinnings of life itself, ruining and despoiling not only the world but each other and ultimately ourselves.

To live authentically in this world, in this human culture, we must find a way to transcend its influence, to slough off the conditioning that tells us we must claw our way to the top of the pile, gathering more and more of the world unto ourselves, insulating ourselves from others and from the world out there with yet more and more comfort, security, pleasure and excess.

The first, essential, step is to see through the illusion.

Anyatta – no self

Ever noticed how similar Vedic philosophy can sound to the Buddha-dharma?

Partly because Gautama lived and thought within the Hindu tradition, and partly because Hinduism’s inclusive dynamic has plowed much of Buddha’s teaching back into its own modern expressions, much of what shows up in popular Yoga magazines and other current Vedic writing seems to be right in line with what we think of as the Dhamma, in the sense of the teachings of Buddha.

Recently however, reading an article in a recent issue of Yoga Journal, I came across a line that made it very clear where the two traditions diverge. In the article, “Help Wanted” by Phil Catalfo, which focuses on dealing with stress that comes from changes at work, there’s this sentence:

“This, of course, is the great yogic principle of impermanence: Jobs change, relationships change; in this life, everything changes except the Self, your pure consciousness.”

Of course, in the Buddha’s teachings, everything, especially ‘the Self’, is seen as impermanent. In Vedic teaching, atman – the soul or self – is a permanent entity that moves from life to life in the samsaric round, reincarnated over and over in different bodies until it accumulates enough good karma to break out of this round and move into nirvana.

Buddha specifically taught the principle of anyatta, or no-self, and said that in rebirth (a slightly different concept than reincarnation) nothing passes to the next life except the karma.

And this seemingly small detail makes a world of difference. I can’t speak for others, but I know quite clearly that for me, it’s that notion of ‘self’ that is the source of all the problems. My deeply conditioned belief in that self’s reality, my pathetic and desperate attempts to reify it, my attachment to that constructed self and its preferences, all combine to drive the most selfish, greedy, grasping aspects of my behavior.

However cleverly I manipulate the other aspects of my life, however “enlightened” or liberated my concepts regarding other things may be, however moral and well-intentioned my actions are, as long as I cling to that notion that there’s a ‘me’ in there who can benefit from all these wonderful things I’m doing, true liberation will elude me.

I may become very calm and happy, and appear very good and kind as I release all the dualities that plague us, but true liberation will not be possible until I am able to let go of the dualism of self and other.

I am deeply grateful to the Buddha Gautama for realizing that truth, and for all the students and teachers who passed it down to us today. Thus have I heard.

Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu!

Ah, even the poet in lovely verse

sees the death in the external world.

With even a certain sad beauty,

he watches the flowers wither and fall.

But to see my own death

in each moment of my living

requires a deep hard looking,

a silent slow feeling,

a calm descending

through the quiet pool

in the delightful garden

deep down

into the wells of pain and fear

collected over the ages.

Authentic living: Does it matter?

If there were a madman standing somewhere – perhaps on some hidden island in the middle of some unknown ocean (thinking of Dr. No…) – with his finger on the Destruct button, sending live video out to all the world saying that everyone must accede to a set of demands else he will push the button, what would we do? What would be authentic life in that moment?

What if this fictional madman had a series of buttons, each labeled with one of the world’s major cities, and began pressing them one at a time, with subsequent video of the total destruction of each city following upon his press of each button, laying out for the world a timetable of sure destruction and a list of demands including such things as ‘no more plastic’, or ‘eschewing all non-renewable energy,’ or ‘destroying all weapons of war’ … you get the idea.

What would be the reasonable and prudent course of action in such a scenario?

The world we live in is in fact in just such a predicament, though the madman is not a Dr. No on some remote island, the madman is us.

The timetable is yet to be agreed on, and the means of our destruction is still a bit up in the air, but make no mistake, unless we make some drastic changes at some very deep levels, it will come.

“Sustainability” is a cruel hoax.

Even if we make all the changes currently on the table and considered “reasonable” by those in high positions, we will not be able to sustain anything close to how we are now living for more than a few decades… perhaps, if some technological breakthrough materializes, we might sustain our way of life for a century. Which would allow my grandchildren to have children, yes – but how long would those children survive?

What is usually presented as sustainability is more like “stretch-ability”.

A description of the kind of life that is truly sustainable indefinitely on this earth would be so radically different from our present lifestyle as to be unacceptable to most, perhaps even unrecognizable. Somewhere between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic, we left a truly sustainable paradigm behind. By the time agriculture made “civilization” possible, we were firmly set on the course to the economic polarization, authoritarian regimes, and environmental consumption of today’s world.

So yes, we face sure destruction, yet we temporize and hem and haw and argue about the prudent course, and we stroll about on the deck smoking Cuban cigars and enjoying the evening breeze even as the iceberg looms.

So yes, I am asking, what constitutes an authentic life when faced with the mass destruction, maybe even the extinction, of our progeny, perhaps even of life on earth.

Perhaps I am too audacious. Perhaps I am arrogant as well, to think I have anything to say about authentic living. But I persist.

I offer these words in a spirit of humility and gratitude, realizing that I could be very off the mark with all or any of it, and acknowledging my great debt to the thousands of teachers, writers, thinkers, friends, enemies, and lovers who have helped me along the path to this point.

I also offer these words out of serious, ongoing love and concern for the well-being of the people and all the life-forms on this imperiled planet.

This concern is the real motivation for writing, for sharing, for perhaps at times sounding insistent. The situation is dire everywhere you look. Things are ‘going to hell in an egg basket’ as the old folks I grew up with said. The economic, social and environmental crises threaten to collapse the world our children and grandchildren depend on for their very lives. Is this not sufficient motivation for speaking out, for risking a strident tone?

Indeed, I believe we all need to begin to speak up on behalf of life on the earth, to speak up and to step out of our comfort zones, to change our ways of thinking and living, and to demand – as non-stridently as possible perhaps – that others take note of the impending disasters we face and to behave appropriately.

The changes we can make in our own lifestyles, while significant in many ways, are not enough. Even if all the “environmentally conscious” people of the world made all the changes they could “reasonably” be expected to make in their lifestyles – indeed, even if we, this tiny minority, really radically simplified our lives and reduced our consumption and all those things, it would not be enough to avert the environmental crises. Even if all of the progressives really got active in the political and social systems and took to the streets with the Occupy movements (Which I love!) around the world, it wouldn’t be enough.

There are just not enough of us.

So the strategy must be broader and stronger and more radical if we hope to make a difference in how things proceed.

The most important thing for us to do is to help others – our families, our friends and neighbors, our enemies in the culture wars, the great unwashed, the roiling masses, everyone! – come to see the true nature of the situation. This won’t be easy, because everything else is stacked against that seeing. Intense creativity will be required if we are to reach enough people.

So how do we help others to see this critical truth? Yes, speaking out and being strong examples is important. But again, it’s not enough. People generally change deeply set beliefs and ways of life only after powerful emotional experiences, not from being convinced by rational arguments, persuasive Power Points notwithstanding. It’s difficult to construct powerful emotional experiences for others, but the closest we can come to it is through the power of Story.

We must all begin to dig deep within ourselves to find the most powerful stories we can create, stories that will communicate at a real, undeniable emotional level the truths that we are coming to know. Truths that will help others to access the new understandings that power our lives, the new visions that give us hope, the new freedom from conventional living and thinking that offer the possibility for a new world, a beautiful world where humans recover the true ways of life that once were as natural as breathing.

The first step in the process is to see where we went wrong: separation.

Lojong 12 Drive all blames into one

Ahhh… we resisted moving on to this one. It’s a bit demanding…. but so rewarding when penetrated deeply.

In everything problematic in one’s life, realize that all the blame starts with you… your uptightness, your ego-fixation… your tendency to protect this fragile ‘self’ that has arisen in your mind. Accepting the blame for what goes wrong in your life is the only way to enter the bodhisattva path. Then it may be possible to realize the truth of our own self- reification.

Accepting the blame on yourself can also defuse a tense situation, can open it up so that others are not defensive, thus communication is possible… then others may be able to accept and acknowledge their own errors.

This is Poison as Medicine again – by absorbing the poison in a situation, we make the rest of the situation medicine. This works at the personal level, and is also key to solving the great social ills, moving toward realizing an enlightened society.

J. Kongtrul says: No one else is to blame; this self-cherishing attitude is to blame. I shall do whatever I can to subdue it.