In the Katha Upanishad, Vajasravasa was a wealthy merchant who only pretended to give away his possessions in a mock demonstration of religious merit.  His son, Nachiketa, called him on it and the father, in a pique of rage, sent his son away to meet Yama=Death.  But Yama was late for the appointment, and in compensation for his inhospitability offered the boy three wishes.

Nachiketa’s first wish was for reconciliation with his father.  Granted.  His second wish was for instruction in the ritual of fire, which opens all of Heaven to the supplicant.  Granted.

Nachiketa’s third wish was for knowledge of the soul and its relation to mortal flesh.  Yama feigned reluctance to grant it, but he was secretly pleased with the boy’s wisdom.  Thus he instructed Nachiketa:

The joy of the Atman ever abides,
But not what seems pleasant to the senses.

“Each of us must choose between identification with the immortal soul, which leads to everlasting joy, or identification with the mortal body, which leads to pleasure while the body lasts.”

Nachiketa replied:

I know that earthly treasures are transient
And never can I reach the eternal through them.
Hence have I renounced all my desires for earthly treasures
To win the eternal through your instruction.

And Yama:

Knowing the senses to be separate
From the Self, and the sense experience
To be fleeting, the wise grieve no more.

Above the senses is the mind,
Above the mind is the intellect,
Above that is the ego, and above the ego
Is the unmanifested Cause.
And beyond is Brahman, omnipresent,
Attributeless. Realizing him one is released
From the cycle of birth and death.

Yama proceeds to offer an account of Brahman that is strikingly similar to Lao Tzu’s (non-)description of the Dao.  There is a non-material essence that gives rise to all physical manifestations.  By long meditation practice, or by grace, or by shaktipat from a realized master, our awareness may be lifted from the realm of the body into the realm of Brahman.

Here’s how Brian Browne Walker concludes his translation of the Hua Hu Jing of Lao Tzu:

With all this talking, what has been said?
The subtle truth can he pointed at with words, but it can’t be contained by them.

Take time to listen to what is said without words, to obey the law too subtle to be written, to worship the unnameable and to embrace the unformed.

Love your life. Trust the Dao.

Make love with the invisible subtle origin of the universe, and you will give yourself everything you need.

You won’t have to hide away forever in spiritual retreats. You can be a gentle, contemplative hermit right here in the middle of everything, utterly unaffected, thoroughly sustained and rewarded by your integral practices.

Encouraging others, giving freely to all, awakening and purifying the world with each movement and action, you’ll ascend to the divine realm in broad daylight.

The breath of the Dao speaks, and those who are in harmony with it hear quite clearly.


Today begins the Hindu Festival of Lights.


World Travel ==> World Peace

For a long time, an increase in global interconnectedness has been paralleled with the creation of a more peaceful world. The more we interact with each other, the more we’ll care about each other, and the less we’re inclined to hurt one another.

The link between global connection and peace isn’t a perfectly straight line, but it makes sense that these adventurous travelers have an immense potential for creating good in the world just by visiting new places and building cultural bridges that increase understanding.

— Pippa Biddle article


Step outside scientific logic

It’s a provable fact of mathematical logic: All coherent systems of thought are incomplete, in that there are truths that lie outside, forever inaccessible, not provable within the system at hand.  Therefore, we will never have the whole story until we are able to step outside our logical system—whatever system we have chosen—and seek our truth elsewhere.  But where?  Indian physicist Thandu Padmanabhan suggests an answer: in direct experience.

The only possible true adventure…lies outside perimeters of all systems of thought and this is what we shall seek. Begin with a beautiful fact: Nothing precludes the existence of experiences which cannot be communicated, verbalized, transmitted… within the honest-to-God system of Aristotelian logic! Nothing precludes the existence of concepts which cannot be communicated by any system of thought…[Realizing] this is probably the highest peak a logical intellect…can take you. And that is enough, in a way. Once the existence of the possibility is recognised, intellect self-destructs and something else— which, for the lack of a better name, I will call Direct Experience — takes over.
Thandu Padmanabhan


Embracing ambiguity

I shall speak of … how melancholy and utopia preclude one another. How they fertilize one another … Of the revulsion that follows one insight and precedes the next … Of superabundance and surfeit. Of stasis and progress. And of myself, for whom melancholy and utopia are heads and tails of the same coin.

— Günter Grass would have celebrated his 90th birthday today,

Do we need depression in order to be fully idealistic?  Peter Kramer says ‘no’.

pity this monster, manunkind

pity this busy monster, manunkind,

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
— electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange; lenses extend
unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.
A world of made
is not a world of born — pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if — listen: there’s a hell
of a good universe next door; let’s go

e. e. cummings, born this day in 1894


More things on heaven and earth, Horatio…

The part of your creative and perceptual capacity that you know and you commonly use are a small slice of your full potential.  Just so, you normally attend to only a small slice of all that is, and you have become desensitized to information and sensations that are available to you.

The ego is a jealous god. It does not want to admit the reality of any dimensions except those it understands, and within which it feels comfortable.  It was meant to be an aid, but it has been allowed to become a tyrant.  Even so, it is much more resilient and eager to learn than is generally supposed.  It is not natively rigid, and its curiosity can be of great value.

If you have a limited conception of the nature of reality, then the ego will do its best to keep you in that small, enclosed area.  But given free play, your instincts and creative energy can communicate something of a wider existence to your limited, physical form.  


Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…

So begins a remarkable document, ratified by the United Nations in 1948, which might serve as a prescription for the political, economic and culture future of “our human family”.

Beginning with “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,” explicitly proscribing slavery and torture, the document goes on to establish

  • a right of asylum from any abusive regime
  • a right to free association, and to marry whom one wishes
  • free expression and protest

and then, establishing affirmative rights

  • universal right to education
  • right to fair, democratic, representative government
  • “the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.”
  • free choice of employment.  access to a labor union
  • “a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family…”
  • cultural life and the arts
  • etc.

Today, this is all economically feasible.  We need only the will to hold ourselves and our elected officials accountable to providing it.

Illustrated edition of Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Both the substance and the politics involved in getting this document adopted were supplied by Eleanor Roosevelt, born this day in 1874.

Illustration byYacine Ait Kaci, © 2015 United Nations