Jesus is Lord (and a Buddhist) September 21, 2015Posted by Dr. Gus Lott in Uncategorized.
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I was just about to take a bite of my breakfast taco at a local BBQ place when I heard an enthusiastic voice preaching to some high school boys a few tables down.
“There are only three options!” he stated with a smile. “Jesus was either a Liar, a Lunatic, or Lord.”
The youth minister was sharing C.S. Lewis’ Trilemma; a classic apologetic argument meant to prove the divinity of Jesus. It is noted that someone claiming to be God was either a liar, a nut-case, or actually telling the truth. But are those really the only three options? There is another compelling option that one might consider, but for the life of me, I can’t come up with a word for it that starts with an L. Lets extend the trilemma as follows: Was Jesus a Liar, Lunatic, Lord, or Buddhist? I think you’ll see that this additional option makes a whole lot of sense and doesn’t exclude the idea that Jesus was Divine (or that you are too!).
You see, the Original Buddha was a prince who lived sometime around 550BC. One of the most basic teachings he brought forward was that of Pratītyasamutpāda or “Dependent Origination.” This was not a far step from existing Hindu teachings where one is to understand a fundamentally monistic model of the cosmos. That is, that all is one, and that consciousness fragments the world into pairs of opposites (or samsara, the cycle of suffering). That is to say: Our mind creates the illusion of independent actors. This leads to the development of ideas like good and evil and individual intrinsic will; fears and desires. The Buddha described a path that one might follow to penetrate the illusion and reconnect with the truth that all is one, or as the Hindu’s say: “Tat Tvam Asi.”
In western terms: “I/Thou art God.” Dangerous words that will get you nailed up on a cross.
For several hundred years, Buddhism grew by oral tradition and under a strict ascetic set of guidelines later referred to as “Hinayana Buddhism.” But then an interesting and more viral version of Buddhism began to take form around 150BC. Mahayana Buddhism (the “Big Ferryboat”) is the most popular version of Buddhism today and holds that it is not enough to seek Nirvana, the understanding of the unity behind the fragments generated by consciousness. They held that enlightened individuals should go out into the world to help to free all life from the suffering innate in their minds. These “Bodhisattva’s” have much in common our current image of Jesus from the Gospels.
A few decades before scholars believe that Mahayana Buddhism was taking root, Emperor Ashoka of India unified much of the Indian sub-continent into a single empire and declared Buddhism as the state religion. He dedicated his life to the spread of buddhism throughout the world and even took his oath of office in Greek, a side effect of the Alexandrian incursion 100 years prior to his reign. Ashoka sent out missionaries into the world to spread Buddhism into China, Persia, and beyond into Greece and the middle east via the silk-road trading routes. Some of the edicts of Ashoka, written on stone throughout india are even written in Aramaic, the original language of the New Testament.
Buddhists have quite a history of adapting their philosophical teachings onto existing cultural structures. It is said that there are as many kinds of buddhism as their are people. Each comes to enlightenment by their own path. There is a great sensitivity to the cultural context where buddhist missionary work is concerned. In Tibet, for example, the existing bone religion of the Himalayas has been adapted directly into that local expression of Buddhism.
So, in the centuries leading up to the appearance of Jesus in Palestine, there was a massive outpouring of Buddhist missionaries from a unified Buddhist empire in India. This paralleled the development of Mahayana buddhism, a set of teachings that demanded that enlightened ones should return to the world and teach about the freedom from suffering and sin. And core to all the teachings of Buddhism is that powerful statement from the gospel of John: “Tat Tvam Asi,” or “I and the father are One.” These were missionaries who’s central message was that they were God incarnate (and so are you, by the way).
Is it a far step to think that someone claiming to be identical with the divine subsequently showed up with an adaption of the local Hebrew tradition almost identical to the Buddhist middle way? A dove descended onto the baptized Jesus just as Maya attended the enlightenment of the buddha. Jesus was born of a virgin (a divine birth) and Gautama Siddhartha was born out of his mother’s side at the level of the heart. And central to Jesus’s teachings is a path towards freedom from suffering.
So maybe Jesus is both “Lord” and a Buddhist at the same time. And I’m ok with that. To me, it broadens the impact of his teachings and affirms his divinity without the need for supernatural nonsense. It lets me see that there is identity with the divine in me. And that is what I believe is the biggest challenge with Christianity in the west. We are to be in relation to the divine, not to identify with it. That message keeps us in the shackles of sin. Jesus was trying to break through that idea of relation to the creator and to morph it into an identification.
The Problem of Evil November 29, 2013Posted by Dr. Gus Lott in Categories, Free Will, God, Interconnectivity, Monism, Myth & Religion.
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But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
The problem of evil states that if God is all powerful, all knowing, and good, then evil cannot exist. Therefore, something in that equation cannot hold because evil does exist (God allows it or is powerless to prevent it). Non-theists use this as an argument against God’s existence – or at least reason to reject Him. Literal-minded theists go through all manner of logical contortions to reconcile this problem; free will being the most prevalent.
A third option exists. Championed by Jesus and the Buddha and many other shamans throughout history: There is no problem of evil. Evil does not exist.
Evil is an illusion and the main source of our separation from God. It is a product of our nature as humans to build classifications and categorizations of the world around us (it is the inescapable function of our brain). What the Garden of Eden story tells us is that this kind of abstract categorization is exactly the original sin that separates us from the divine. Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil and the result was separation from God and the entire world as we know it!
The truth is that a horrific serial murderer is as natural a phenomenon as a hurricane, a sunny day, or a mother’s love for her child. The mind-machine of the serial killer human merely deviates from what is considered the societal norm. To apply moral agency (i.e. good or evil labels) to these mechanistic natural phenomena is to miss out on the fact of the interconnectedness of all things as encapsulated by the first law of thermodynamics – the basis of our modern physical model of the universe.
Most importantly, the label of evil cuts off our ability to have compassion or empathy. How different would our world be if we saw evil for the underlying pain and ignorance that it truly represents? We could still act to remove it from the world, but we would be doing so understanding that our enemy is another aspect of the same universal fabric (read: God/Cosmos) from which we are formed. I and He are both identical with the divine mystery.
Loving your enemy, going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, and even hating your family. How else are we to interpret these teachings? Jesus did not entreat us to “stop having enemies.” We can’t do that; That’s the function of our mind and a part of life. He is helping us to see that we can participate in the illusion. More than that, by discovering the illusion, we can die to the trap of sin and be reborn into heaven right here and now.
The Hindus inherited an ancient story affirming this idea as well. Two birds sit in the Tree of Jiva and Atman;
Two birds associated together, and mutual friends, take refuge in the same tree; one of them eats the sweet fig; the other abstaining from food, merely looks on.
What is most scary about this concept is that to act out of this knowledge is to truly take responsibility for our actions individually and as a society. Evil is no longer perceived (falsely) as a moral absolute, intrinsic to the universe. Evil is now a relative term which we must own and defend to our fellow humans. Instead of letting evil be formed in the shadow of our collective subconscious, we shine light on and declare ownership of these labels.
Quite often in our history, charismatic leaders have taken advantage of the subconscious/hidden nature of our models of evil and have easily persuaded us to fear and hate a group of fellow humans. And they have been so successful because that label of “evil,” in its sinful shadowy form, acts as an anesthetic, blocking empathy. Imagine a world where the label of evil produces compassion instead of fear and anger. Take a big bite out of the apple and lets make it happen.
The Free Will Irony June 6, 2012Posted by Dr. Gus Lott in Book Review, Determinism, Free Will, Interconnectivity, What Is Life?.
A little more on the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. It talks about the illusion of the self-made man. As I mentioned, Gladwell begins by pointing out that virtually all professional Hockey players in Canada are born between January and April… and goes from there. I highly recommend the read.
We are formed by forces in the world and then we become an expression of those forces acting again in the world. Free will is the idea that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps; literally. While this is an often used colloquial phrase, we know it is nonsense.
The reason for the hockey player phenomena is that the league cut-off birthdate is January 1, so the people born early in the year are the most physically matured in their classes (when they are young) and get selected out for extra training early on because of their relative performance. This snowballs into pushing them into outlier status. If we can acknowledge the FACT that we are a construct of these kind of external influences, then we can, ironically, take control. We can change the hockey league such that it takes this into account and somehow weights performance based on calendar year birth date when making selections. Then we could have 3 times as many amazing hockey players!
Free will is a dodge. It is a fixed mindset construct that our western culture has fostered. It is a cop-out so that, ironically, we don’t have to take responsibility for our lot in life. With it, we can blame the nature of the world on intrinsic actors instead of accepting responsibility and taking control to create environments that generate beauty.
That’s the trick and the irony of free will. Free will is a dodge to shirk responsibility and lays on guilt and regret in an unending cycle. Rejecting the notion of free will truly allows you to take ownership of the world while freeing yourself from the notions of guilt and regret. It also allows you to have compassion where free will does not. When viewing individuals as confluences of a myriad forces, how can we not feel compassion for them, whatever their actions?
I find it funny how backwards the idea is.
Book: Outliers May 10, 2012Posted by Dr. Gus Lott in Book Review, Complexity, Free Will, Interconnectivity, Monism, Popular Culture, Science, What Is Life?.
Tags: malcolm gladwell
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Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, is a thought provoking read. It explores success stories in terms of not “who they are now” but “how they got here.” It’s based around the fallacy of the “self-made man” who can “pull himself up by his bootstraps.” This argument is identical to that of the free will concept of the intrinsic actor. It exposes a person as a network of opportunities and relationships and their success as an expression of an ecosystem and not an individual. The notion of an intrinsic identity capable of acting “in spite of” an environment is counterproductive, but enticing.
Gladwell begins by illustrating how the vast majority of professional canadian hockey players are born between January and April. A surprising fact that illustrates the way that an arbitrary cut-off date for league membership can provide the slightly older (i.e. those born Jan 1) with a leg-up that starts a cycle of access that propels them into higher leagues. If you were born on December 31st, don’t even bother. There are many other thought provoking explorations of this effect and Gladwell asks a compelling question: If we could have a hockey league that selected without such arbitrary filters in place, we could have 10 times as many skilled professional hockey players (or a thousand more Bill Gates’s).
He also provides compelling evidence that hard work leads to success. If you want to be a master, you have to get your 10,000+ hours of practice in. There are virtually no examples of masters who haven’t put in the work and even fewer of those who have put in the work and didn’t become success stories. The Beatles played 8 hours a day for several years in strip-clubs in Hamburg before they got their break.
The attitude of the self-made-man is exactly the free-will having intrinsically-motivated oxymoron common to egocentric western culture. It’s a violation of the basic rules we understand about the universe: “You can’t get something from nothing.” When we look at individuals as self-made, as if they pulled themselves out of their own navel, we cannot learn and grow towards success. When we recognize that individuals (including ourselves) are networks of relationships and not intrinsic actors, ironically, we can truly learn and grow. When we realize that we are identical with the ecosystem of our unique histories, we can take ownership of our lives, and achieve whatever we want.
Augmented Reality: Google Glass April 20, 2012Posted by Dr. Gus Lott in News, Popular Culture, Robotics, Technology.
Tags: gadgets, technology
Recently, Google announced the upcoming release of a wearable personal augmented reality system code-named “Google Glass.” The concept video illustrates the goal for the system to act as an overlay of metadata on the world. These glasses represent a weak form of augmented reality where data is merely overlain on reality without any association to the scene. This is a good step in the right direction, but there is so much more!
Augmented reality is the next big game changer, along with autonomous vehicles; But not like these glasses. Real augmented reality will be able to project patterns onto your eye such that they appear registered with the world as you move your eyes or your body.
Amongst other things, real personal augmented reality will enable true 3D holography. Instead of developing expensive, dim, and high powered micro-projectors to create 2D and 3D images in the world, each one of us will merely don our personal glasses and access the 3D data file. Low power lasers will raster patterns on both of our eyes with depth disparity such that we perceive a real 3D object in the world. The patterns will be modified to track the motion of your eye and the motion of the scene as the wearer walks within it. We will be able to point and walk around virtual 3D objects that appear to be there with us for all users to see.
We will get rid of the need for tiny screens on our phones. The true AR goggles will be able to overtake your entire visual field with a better than IMAX personal 3D experience. Live action games will take on an entirely new meaning when people, in the world, can see metadata and costumes digitally rendered on their teammates and competition. Kids will be able to truly fire laser blasters at digitally rendered dragons soaring above their homes.
Military users will be able to see the location of friendly units and augment their visual field with intelligence and extra-sensory information. A soldier might overlay a thermal video stream of the scene onto their eyes or receive live translations of a villager’s words as a thought bubble over their head.
Then there will be the battle for advertising. Augmented reality systems of the future will be able to detect advertisements in your environment before you do. They will be able to remove or enhance them. Billboards could be deleted from your visual field and other adds could take their place based on your selected data feed.
Any number of layers of information will be accessible to us with much higher fidelity than we achieve through the puny portals of our modern personal phones.
Achieving such registration requires cutting edge computer vision algorithms that simultaneously map an environment and localize a moving camera within that environment. Once the camera’s location is tracked, the data may be registered within the model of the world and projected into a model of the eye in order to determine the pattern that must be projected. Such algorithms are currently brittle but amazing advances are being made. This is a unifying technology that will replace cellular phones, the television, blu-ray, and e-books.
The future of this technology is bright. It means that we can move towards a more natural world with less clutter and relegate the gaudy and grandiose visuals and data feeds of a modern society to a digital overlay that we all carry with us.