Meeting Vishnu on the Beach

 The life span of the universe is one “maha kalpa”. i.e. 311.04 trillion human years. This time span is also the duration of one breath of Vishnu. When he exhales, thousands of universes emerges and one Brahma is born in each universe. When Vishnu inhales, all universes get sucked and Brahma dies. This cycle is non-ending and eternal. 

Age of the Universe, according to the Vedas

art by Caitlin Johnstone, too

A man walking along the beach came upon a boy picking up starfish and throwing them into the water.

“What are you doing?” the man asked him.

“I’m throwing these starfish back into the sea,” the boy answered. “The tide’s gone out and they’ll cook in the sun if I don’t help them.”

“But there are miles and miles of beach and countless starfish in every mile,” said the man. “You can’t possibly make any difference!”

The boy listened politely, then picked up another starfish and tossed it into the surf.

“Made a difference to that one,” he said to the man.

“I mean that’s a cute answer and all,” said the man. “It would fit nicely in a Facebook meme shared by your religious aunty, or a motivational speech from the early nineties. But in the grand scheme of things you must surely understand that saving that one starfish is of no real significance? The tide will go out again tomorrow, and this beach will once again be lined with dying starfish just as it is now, among them quite likely our little friend you just rescued.”

“What do you want me to say man?” the boy replied, his tone suddenly changing. “That there’s some kind of eternally ordained metaphysical justification for my actions here on this beach today? That there’s some absolute truth inscribed upon the fabric of reality from on high saying ‘One saved starfish equals one Ultimate Meaningfulness?’ On what basis are you premising your assumption that any actions have any meaning or purpose at all?”

“I- I- Well…” the man stammered.

The boy began to grow larger, and as he spoke his skin turned an otherworldly shade of blue.

“Do you have any idea how vast the universe is? How ancient it is? How ephemeral it is?” asked the boy. “How can you claim to take any action that makes any ultimate difference whatsoever when you and everything you’ve ever known is nothing but an infinitely small blip in the middle of a yawning expanse of infinity?”

“Who- who are you?” the man asked.

A second pair of blue arms sprouted from the boy’s torso. His voice thundered as he towered over the man.

“Who am I?? Who are you?” the boy responded. “Who do you think you are exactly? Who are you to go around proclaiming what actions possess significance and which do not?”

Read more from Caitlin Johnstone

The marriage of focus and fervency

You must create your dream by force of will.
Imagine what you most desire. Persist.
Volition becomes real when you enlist
The concentration that you forged in still-
ness and in transcendental peace.
Those years of meditation served you well—
Cultured detachment from a mental hell,
The fears and demons you learned to release.
When gaudy, loud distractions tug your senses,
Your mind is trained with disciplined defenses

The pow’r of thought is greatly magnified
When you have noble allies at your side.
Sustained, coherent thought will realize
Collective vision from discordant eyes.

— JJM, from the Poetry of Oneness

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Carpe sine carpe

Da neigt sch die Stunde und rührt mich an
mit klarem metallenem Schlag:
mir zittern die Sinne. Ich fühle: ich kann –
und ich fasse den plastischen Tag.

— Rilke’s opening, in the original

The hour is falling and it touches me
with a clear, metallic blow:
my senses are trembling. I feel: I can –
I seize the plastic day.
– tr Neil McAarthur

Variation On A Theme By Rilke
(The Book of Hours, Book I, Poem 1, Stanza 1)

A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me — a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day’s blow
rang out, metallic — or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can.

~ Denise Levertov

I live my life in circles that grow wide
And endlessly unroll,
I may not reach the last, but on I glide
Strong pinioned toward my goal.

About the old tower, dark against the sky,
The beat of my wings hums,
I circle about God, sweep far and high
On through milleniums.

Am I a bird that skims the clouds along,
Or am I a wild storm, or a great song?

Jessie Lemont, translating Rilke

image from Joe Riley’s Panhala listserve

Squaring Mutual Aid with Darwin’s vision

Two aspects of animal life impressed me most during the journeys which I made in my youth in Eastern Siberia and Northern Manchuria. One of them was the extreme severity of the struggle for existence which most species of animals have to carry on against an inclement Nature; the enormous destruction of life which periodically results from natural agencies; and the consequent paucity of life over the vast territory which fell under my observation. And the other was, that even in those few spots where animal life teemed in abundance, I failed to find – although I was eagerly looking for it – that bitter struggle for the means of existence, among animals belonging to the same species, which was considered by most Darwinists (though not always by Darwin himself) as the dominant characteristic of struggle for life, and the main factor of evolution.

I failed to find that bitter struggle for the means of existence which was considered by most Darwinists (though not always by Darwin) as the main factor of evolution.

The terrible snow-storms which sweep over the northern portion of Eurasia in the later part of the winter, and the glazed frost that often follows them; the frosts and the snow-storms which return every year in the second half of May, when the trees are already in full blossom and insect life swarms everywhere; the early frosts and, occasionally, the heavy snowfalls in July and August, which suddenly destroy myriads of insects, as well as the second broods of the birds in the prairies; the torrential rains, due to the monsoons, which fall in more temperate regions in August and September – resulting in inundations on a scale which is only known in America and in Eastern Asia, and swamping, on the plateaus, areas as wide as European States; and finally, the heavy snowfalls, early in October, which eventually render a territory as large as France and Germany, absolutely impracticable for ruminants, and destroy them by the thousand – these were the conditions under which I saw animal life struggling in Northern Asia. They made me realize at an early date the overwhelming importance in Nature of what Darwin described as “the natural checks to over-multiplication,” in comparison to the struggle between individuals of the same species for the means of subsistence, which may go on here and there, to some limited extent, but never attains the importance of the former. Paucity of life, under-population – not over-population – being the distinctive feature of that immense part of the globe which we name Northern Asia, I conceived since then serious doubts – which subsequent study has only confirmed – as to the reality of that fearful competition for food and life within each species, which was an article of faith with most Darwinists, and, consequently, as to the dominant part which this sort of competition was supposed to play in the evolution of new species.

I saw Mutual Aid and Mutual Support carried on to an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life.

On the other hand, wherever I saw animal life in abundance, as, for instance, on the lakes where scores of species and millions of individuals came together to rear their progeny; in the colonies of rodents; in the migrations of birds which took place at that time on a truly American scale along the Usuri; and especially in a migration of fallow-deer which I witnessed on the Amur, and during which scores of thousands of these intelligent animals came together from an immense territory, flying before the coming deep snow, in order to cross the Amur where it is narrowest – in all these scenes of animal life which passed before my eyes, I saw Mutual Aid and Mutual Support carried on to an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each species, and its further evolution.

— Peter Kropotkin, Introduction to Mutual Aid (1902)

…that the struggle of every man against all other men, was “a law of Nature” — this was a view I could not accept.

The Master Singer

A LAUGHTER in the diamond air, a music in the trembling grass;
And one by one the words of light as joydrops through my being pass:
“I am the sunlight in the heart, the silver moon-glow in the mind;
My laughter runs and ripples through the wavy tresses of the wind.
I am the fire upon the hills, the dancing flame that leads afar
Each burning-hearted wanderer, and I the dear and homeward star.
A myriad lovers died for me, and in their latest yielded breath
I woke in glory giving them immortal life though touched by death.
They knew me from the dawn of time: if Hermes beats his rainbow wings,
If Angus shakes his locks of light, or golden-haired Apollo sings,
It matters not the name, the land: my joy in all the gods abides:
Even in the cricket in the grass some dimness of me smiles and hides.
For joy of me the daystar glows, and in delight and wild desire
The peacock twilight rays aloft its plumes and blooms of shadowy fire,
Where in the vastness too I burn through summer nights and ages long,
And with the fiery-footed watchers shake in myriad dance and song.”

George William Russell signed his poetry “A.E.”

Russell was also a social activist, a publisher, a spiritual teacher, a painter, a novelist, and (in his obituary) an economist. He introduced W. B. Yeats to the world, and Yeats later quipped: “AE – IOU”

Our fullest flowering

“The individual only reaches his or her fullest flowering as a member of a community.”

Rebecca Solnit

Solnit gives us a lot of reasons to put our faith in humanity. In times of crisis, when the Hobbesian authorities tell us that we are at our worst, we find large numbers of people putting aside their own business, braving dangers, going out of their way to help others.

The world is facing a major crisis this last year and a half. Should we trust authorities to pull us through, or should we trust human individuals?

When people seize upon these moments of aliveness when they feel their power to do good, when they stay open to that experience, remarkable things become possible.

St Francis and the Sow

The bud
stands for all things,
even those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as St. Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of
the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking
and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

~ Galway Kinnell (as quoted in Joe Riley’s Panhala)


 Some fishermen pulled a bottle from the deep. It held a piece of paper,with these words: “Somebody save me! I’m here. The ocean cast me on this desert island.I am standing on the shore waiting for help. Hurry! I’m here!”

“There’s no date. I bet it’s already too late anyway.It could have been floating for years,” the first fisherman said.

“And he doesn’t say where. It’s not even clear which ocean,” the second fisherman said.

“It’s not too late, or too far. The island Here is everywhere,” the third fisherman said. They all felt awkward. No one spoke. That’s how it goes with universal truths. 

~ Wislawa Szymborska ~

Living in the Truth is a Radical Act

One man who stopped lying could bring down a tyrrany — Alexander Solzhenitzn

People came to realize that not standing up for the freedom of others meant surrendering their own freedom

Vaclav Havel

Truth is the primary enemy of totalitarianism, as it erodes the foundation of lies on which it is built. “The crust presented by…the life of lies seems to be made of stone. But the moment someone breaks through in one place…the whole crust appears to be made of a tissue on the point of tearing and disintegrating uncontrollably.”

Whence commeth death?

The one central theme in my research in evolutionary ecology this last 20 years is that in order to understand we (and most other living things) age and die, you have to study the evolution of ecosystems. Imagine my delight when I come across an interview with my favorite modern novelist in which he says just this, and I imagine that in some indirect way, my publications have helped to create the scientific environment in which he has been able to think as he is thinking. — JJM

This prohibition against anthropomorphism in the sciences has created an artificial gulf between us and even those animals that are next of kin to us genetically. If we see all of evolution as leading up to us and all of human cultural evolution leading up to neoliberalism, then we are individuals busily trying to make meaning for ourselves, and death becomes the enemy.

But if we recover this sense of kinship that was essential to so many indigenous cultures through history,

  • That there is no radical break between us and our animal kin
  • That even consciousness to a large degree is shared with many other creatures

…then death stops seeming like the enemy, and starts seeming like an ingenious device for keeping evolution circulating, keeping the experiment running and keeping genes recombining. To go from terror to interbeing — that the experiment is sacred rather than this one outcome of the experiment that happens to be myself — is to immediately transform the way you think about fundamental social and economic and cultural values.

— From an Ezra Klein interview of Richard Powers, about his new book