A Couple of Koans

What is a koan? I’m not an expert on the subject, but my understanding is that koans come from Zen Buddhism, the ancient philosophy of the East. A koan is a paradoxical, or even contradictory, statement that stimulates the mind that contemplates it to unveil a certain secret wisdom. That is, every koan contains a nugget of information for the mind willing to unravel its riddle. The key, though, that makes it a koan is that this information is supposed to be incommunicable. Only the individual who “cracks” the koan will have access to the information. To all others, it will remain a mystery.

Once upon a time, when I was a bit more contradiction-averse (as koans are often expressed as contradictions), I thought that the contradiction in a koan wasn’t really a contradiction. I believed that the contradiction was a way of conveying information in a roundabout, backward sort of way, that really didn’t violate the Law of Non-contradiction. Nowadays, I’m not so sure. I still believe in the Law of Non-contradiction, but I also think Zen koans are pretty cool.

Currently, I’m kind of of the mind that when the original koans were written, the information they encoded was beyond the scope of expressive language. Now, so many centuries later, it may be the case that language has evolved enough that it can capture the sense of what some of the koans mean. At least, that’s what I think. I could be totally wrong.

With that preamble, I offer these two koans with my own interpretation of each. First, I give you one I heard from a friend of mine: “Return to the uncut wood.” I take that to mean, reorient your perspective to that of an unjaded youth. I think I made that more complicated than I intended to. Think of the Christian emphasis on being child-like and approach life that way. That’s what I think this koan is encouraging us to do. Next, is a koan that I’m not sure where I stumbled across it: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” This means, be your own master, make your own decisions, etc…. Anyway, those are the two koans I remember and the interpretations I’ve given them—both of which could be totally wrong, but I don’t think so. I’d like to find a book of koans to look at and study, but I’m always forgetting about it.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on koans.


Our Dystopian Future

I volunteer at a Food Shelf. Sometimes it’s slow and we are left to ourselves to amuse ourselves with myriad tasks and conversation. A recent conversation drifted into the darker possibilities of our future.

Basically, the possibilities of technology are getting scarier and scarier.

It started with my lamentations concerning the influence the government has on the Food Shelf; we get food from them, and that, of course, comes with some strings attached. Not my problem, because I’m not particularly high up in the organization. But we discussed that for a bit, and then we moved into stranger and more frightening territory.

Somehow we got onto the subject of humans being implanted with computer chips when they are born. One of my co-volunteers said that was likely in our future. She didn’t seem alarmed…. until I came up with a few disturbing possibilities. Remember Snowden? All the NSA secrets? No doubt that was made possible through the government calling some shots at the point of origin of computer manufacturing. I assume that there is some secret hardware or something in all the computers ever made (yeah, I’m a little paranoid—or am I?). Will they have similar programs for these computer chips inserted in our bodies? Yes, the chips can monitor blood cell counts, temperature, etc… But what’s to stop them from putting in other “stuff.” Like, perhaps, a minute, but deadly, toxin. Someone is causing problems, and the government activates the “kill switch” through a simple wireless command. And the person dies seemingly of natural causes.

The same woman mentioned flu shots. And me in my paranoia wondered aloud about what if they’re doing this now? What else could they put into a flu shot besides the flu shot? The development of nano-technology opens floodgates of abuse here. The shot isn’t manufactured by the hospital—we would probably trust the hospital. But if the government were so inclined, they could inject nano-chips into flu shots. And flu shots and other shots can become mandatory all too quickly (because the scientists demand it).

This is all kind of spooky. I have no evidence to think that such is actually happening, at least, not here in the U.S. But it could happen in a not-too-distant future, particularly in a totalitarian state. Like I implied earlier, just think Snowden at an even more perverse level.

Happy Halloween!

Safe Spaces In The Modern Age

Lately, I’ve heard a lot about “Safe Spaces” in the news. Universities are establishing Safe Spaces” for their students. Their students, apparently, think they have the right to be protected from all things that might impinge upon their views and make them feel uncomfortable. If anything makes them uncomfortable and violates their “Safe Space,” they say that they feel “triggered.” And being “triggered” is bad. Of course, it is usually the conservative viewpoint that is the source of this “triggering” and violation of a “Safe Space,” so their answer is to shut down the free speech of conservatives on their campus.

I used to think, with little reflection on my part, all the “Safe Space” stuff and talk of “triggers” was silly and stupid.

Then, recently, I ran across it in its proper place. As readers of this blog know, I’m … okay, I’m totally insane. I believe I’m the antichrist, etc… etc… As a result, I see a psychiatrist. I also recently started attending a group meeting for individuals suffering from mental illness: basically, group therapy, almost—lacking only the therapist. It was at the latter that I first heard people talking about “Safe Spaces” and “Triggers” in a venue that makes sense. A distinction must be made between a university and a therapy session. The therapy session (and the close approximation which I attend) is, and deserves to be, a Safe Space. Confidentiality is maintained. Deeply personal issues are discussed and dealt with. Emotional arguments are avoided. And that’s all great and fine … for a therapy session. Not a lecture, or a talk, or any kind of presentation, especially at a university which is supposed to be a bastion of free speech and the free exchange of ideas.

There are other “Safe Spaces” which I feel obliged to mention. First, there’s the psychiatrist appointment. I’ve had plenty of those. What gets discussed there, stays there. And I’m not going to confuse a psychiatric appointment with a college lecture.

Here’s another “Safe Space” which I think many people have forgotten about: The Confessional. This is a Catholic Sacrament (I don’t know if any other religions have this or anything like it). Here, the Christian can find absolution for their sins. They can talk about anything they are feeling guilty about under the Seal of the Confessional, so that confidentiality is maintained. Yes, Jesus of Nazareth instituted the first “Safe Space” two thousand years ago, in a proper venue long before any psychologist or psychiatrist existed, let alone thought it up. (Yeah, Jesus!)

And one of the hallmarks of Jesus’ “Safe Space” is privacy. What is discussed therein is between the priest, the sinner, and God. It is not regurgitated for everyone else. It is held separate and distinct from the rest of your life. You find forgiveness and move on. And you don’t expect others to barge in on your Confession; it doesn’t belong in the public sphere where the free exchange of ideas should reign.

Those are the only “Safe Spaces” I can think of: Therapy Sessions, Group Therapy, Psychiatric Appointments, and The Sacrament of Confession. There may be a few others, but probably not many. The point is, they are separate from the rest of your life, they are like escape valves for emotional pressure. They are beneficial and good, but it is unrealistic to expect the rest of your life to operate under the same rules as these.

Anyway, those are my thoughts for this post.