Sunday, January 8, 2012

Unity or Uniformity - What Do We Really Seek?

This is a video of a wide-ranging, passionate and insightful speech elaborating the concept of Gurduara (Dharamsal).  I highly recommend it.  Kindly watch the video prior to reading my comments below.

Reviving the Gurduara from Sikh Research Institute on Vimeo.
Overall, I find great resonance with these views and have for years advocated for much the same.  But it does not serve learning to simply voice agreement.  Therefore, I shall share some concerns that arose during this impressive speech by Harinder Singh of Sikh Research Institute.  The comments below are not necessarily a criticism of his speech, rather it is a consideration of our propensities vis-a-vis collective action and progress.

First and foremost is the all-too-common problem of imposing uniformity (Nishan Sahib ~26th min. of the video).  Harinder Singh asks us if a Nazi supporter would be allowed to speak from a Jewish stage, suggesting that, similarly, no purported defender of the Indian state should be allowed to speak from the stage of any Gurduara.  He contends that a Nishan Sahib represents that the institution is run under Guru Nanak’s system or the Guru’s rule, and not under the rule of any individual, or family, etc.

I agree with Harinder Singh's views on Nishan Sahib but not its implications.  In fact, I surmise that his implied selection, actually exclusion, directly contributes to  the problem - that our Gurduare are pakke (strong), while Sikhs are kachche (weak).  It is so with good reason.

No one really claims that Gurduare should be run under a system contrary to Guru Nanak's.  The problem is that people have divergent opinions about what Guru’s rule or Guru Nanak’s system implies.  But, more importantly, this problem is compounded when one seeks to silence dissenting views and to impose one’s view on others and, failing that, to exclude them for non-compliance.
For instance, hardly any voices seek to support Nazis or their genocidal policies.  But using the labels of "self-hating Jew" or "anti-Israel", etc. blind supporters of Israel (and of Israeli dominance of Palestine, illegal settlements' land-grab, etc.) have assailed and worked to silence dissenting and courageous Jewish voices of Norman Finkelstein, Amy Goodman and Noam Chomsky, etc.  Finkelstein had exposed the very influential Joan Peters "From Time Immemorial" as a hoax, and has since been assailed by the likes of Alan Dershowitz and the ADL for his criticism of Israeli heavy-handedness, up to losing his job and bid for tenure at DePaul University.  Both Chomsky and Finkelstein are rarely provided "Jewish" platforms, and for their out-of-the-mainstream views to be heard one has to seek alternative media like Democracy Now!

So, is the discussion regarding the merits and demerits of Israeli policies towards Palestinians, the security of both Israelis and Palestinians, as well as U.S. foreign policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, better served because these voices are rarely heard from Jewish platforms?  I would suggest that since an overwhelming amount of unapologetic American support for Israel, facts notwithstanding, arises from the Jewish-American community (where there is much less diversity of opinion regarding Israel, and dissenting views are tolerated far less than they are in Israel, where there is healthy debate), this debate would be best served if dissenting Jewish voices were able to consistently engage the Jewish-American community, which also happens to otherwise be among the most educated and progressive.  Labels are, therefore, reductive and do not inform us in a meaningful way.  And barring dissenting views is actually harmful to a robust understanding of issues of global import.

Similarly, pretty much everywhere I look, there is near-unanimous support for Unity along with an attendant demand for Uniformity.  How many intelligent people of influence peddle disunity?  Yet, most calls for unity are offered as inflexible positions and with contempt for “compromise” (which is really nothing more than a commitment to find a solution that will allow divergent views to unite, even if neither's preference is fully met).

Uniformity is to demand the same and to be invariable, while Unity is to act in concert, to come together while remaining free.  The two are not the same.  In fact, uniformity entails a loss of sovereignty.

I am sure that most would agree that they are for everyone having the right to express their views and to be free to disagree with each other; and, in a Sikh context, that a Gurduara is a place of learning.  Yet, when Harinder Singh emotes and raises his ire at supporters of the Indian government being allowed to speak at a Gurduara is he, albeit unintentionally, infringing upon our collective chance to learn (from a wider discussion) by limiting the scope of discussion to what is "permissible"?
Qualitatively, this approach is hardly distinct from the current Gurduara sevadars disallowing speech that challenges their positions or beliefs.  Although, Harinder Singh finds the behavior of the latter unhelpful in allowing the Gurduara to function as a center of learning, I hope that he isn't advocating for the same by wishing to control who can (or should) speak and what one can (or should) say within this “center of learning”.

The willfully blind ambition of seeking uniformity arises from a faulty assumption that one’s own (or group’s) understanding (read belief) is the only right one.  It is analogous to saying that one’s views are the true interpretation (of the Guru’s teachings, and the Way-To-Be), and that the rest of the so-called Sikhs simply need to come to that realization.  According to this view there is no room for dissenting voices.  Positions contrary to one’s own are routinely termed dangerous and an attack on one’s very existence.  There is a desire for one’s own interpretation to be hegemonic (imperial dominance over sub-ordinates).  Isn’t that the common theme in so many Gurduare today?  So, in fact, this uniformity does not offer a way out.  Rather, it just reinforces the status quo.

A way out of the current dilemma is possible by encouraging wide-ranging discussions and debates in every Gurduara.  If a Gurduara is to function as a place of learning, and not as a mere center of indoctrination, then diversity of views should be welcomed.  And especially those that make us uncomfortable.  When we meaningfully consider views that are very different from our own, we increase the likelihood of rising above and operating from a larger, and more inclusive, perspective.  This inclusion is essential for Unity.  By contrast, exclusion (which appears to be implied by Harinder Singh while discussing Nishan Sahib) leads to disunity.

Exclusions, even though clothed as reasonable propositions are a covert desire for uniformity.  Uniformity inspires willful blindness.  It leads us to ignore the obvious at our peril.  Uniformity infringes upon individual sovereignty (that each individual has value and is free to choose the course of his/her life).  Uniformity closes the door and is a product of myopia (lack of discernment or long-range perspective in planning).  Uniformity, I submit, is not a value that emerges from Gurmat (the universal principles - Satgur - and the Guru Granth).

Unity, on the other hand, is very desirable and achievable by being open to a wide diversity of views, and by allowing ourselves to learn, even though we may be uncomfortable by the dissonance they cause.  If we are to err, then it should be towards more openness.  If there is something to renounce, then it is surely our propensity to be right.  And if we are to stop something, then let us stop giving only part of our attention to views that we reject offhand.  Our energy and focus, if it is total and we are present to What Is So (and not our story about what we think it is), then we shall have understood the steps (Paurhi) on Listening (Sunai) and Deriving Value (Manai) in Jap(u) ji.  That, to me, is the Way of Nanak.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Wikileaks Brouhaha: A Misinformed Debate


by Gaurav Singh
Lately, it seems, there has been a woeful lack of reasoned debate concerning Wikileaks across the American media spectrum.  For the most part, Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange, have been demonized.  This is a very curious and a somewhat puzzling phenomenon, since on key issues concerning this scandal there is and should be broad agreement in defense of Wikileaks across the American political landscape.
Broadly, the issues being discussed concern Mr. Assange, allegations (as yet unsubstantiated) against his character and motives; the leaks have been termed treason, and espionage has been mentioned; at least one highly visible individual has called for the hanging of Mr. Assange; and, generally, the concern has been over the harm caused by Wikileaks and Mr. Assange by leaking US diplomatic communiqués.
The key points that have been notably absent (and would be present if there were a reasoned debate):
1.     Free speech and mistrust of government,
2.     Role of media and critical need for free press,
3.     Visa, Mastercard and Paypal’s attack on Americans’ free speech,
4.     Misunderstood culpability related to disclosures, and
5.     Assault on free speech and overuse of governmental secrecy.
When I mentioned to my friends that I found the reaction and attacks on Wikileaks disturbing, a friend and purported supporter of free speech opined, “By releasing classified information about weaknesses in my country's infrastructure and economy, WeakiLeaks is putting my country at risk. Therefore, my freedom of speech is at risk.”
This capitulation, and reflexive disavowal of a sacred liberty (freedom of speech) by an otherwise intelligent and reasonable individual compelled me to write.  Also, I have distaste for hegemonic narratives and for a tyrannical majority willing to shove their unconsidered views down our collective throats.
So, what does it mean to support free speech and to have a healthy mistrust of government?  These two are considered sacrosanct American values.  Yet, there is clearly a blind spot when it comes to making the connection between these values and the hypocritical stand taken by most vis-à-vis Wikileaks.
Everyone seems to be for free speech, unless it comes to speech they find offensive.  But free speech has become a major challenge for the U.S., especially since we have bandied about the virtues and necessity of a free internet and free availability of information.  The rest of the world is weighing in and calling us on our purported values.  Do we stand for our values or are these standards by which we merely seek to judge others?
Then, there is the famous healthy American mistrust of our government.  Or so I had heard. 
At a time when confidence in our government is at historic lows and there is widespread disaffection with Congressional dysfunction, people have come together in a hurry to defend government secrecy!  Yes, that is right.  People have joined the chorus against Wikileaks, in defense of government secrecy and essentially against free speech and free press, the antidotes to governmental abuse.
Let us call a spade a spade – Wikileaks has released the truth.  No one, not even our governmental agencies are questioning the authenticity of what has been released by Wikileaks.  So, at question is whether people have the right to know the truth. How much should we (the people) be allowed to know!
It is likely that our focus should be on the extent and appropriateness of governmental secrecy.  What should be made “secret”?  The erring on the side of caution should always tip the scales towards the freedom of (the public to know) information, so that the American voters can make informed decisions.  That is how our republic is meant to function.  Uninformed or poorly informed voters do not make good decisions.  The erratic voting patterns of late validate my assertion, as do the eight painful years under George W. Bush.  I contend that freedom should generally trump secrecy, which purports to ensure security.
The other disturbing development central to this controversy is: Corporations are now dictating what our economic choices can or cannot be (not should or should not be).  This infringes upon Americans’ free speech!
Visa, Mastercard and Paypal restricting my choices and yours – they did not seek to inform us of the harm in supporting Wikileaks, rather they simply prevented us from being able to give money to Wikileaks.  Therefore, these corporations have dared to regulate our economic choices.
Last time I checked, any of us could still use Visa and Mastercard to give to the Ku Klux Klan and any number of racists, fascist or other hate groups.  But Visa and Mastercard deign to prevent our giving to Wikileaks!
Supreme Court has recently allowed corporations to give freely, as citizens, to political candidates and causes in the name of free speech.  And the corporations are now preventing the exercise the citizens’ rights of free speech.
So what about this issue of espionage and treason?
Non-disclosure agreements – the government making a case of harm being done as a result of the leaks is one that pertains to the individual employee specificially, and others who sign non-disclosure agreements and then violate them.  This is generally true for governmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as for corporations working for profit motives.
The issue here is of a federal employee, who is accused of violating his oath to secrecy and that is an issue that has to be taken up in a judicial court.  There certainly may be a case of a criminal violation here.
However, it is interesting to consider what type of a violation and oath the individual took.  Was his oath to uphold the rules of the military?  Or was his oath fundamentally to uphold the sanctity of, and to serve the Constitution of the United States (which, presumably, is what the military and other governmental employees serve)?  If so, then the real question is not one of a violation of secrecy, but broadly about one’s accord with the Constitutional duties. 
Secondly, Julian Assange is not a U.S. citizen, and does not owe allegiance to the United States.  He has not levied war against the U.S. or adhered to its enemies, and so on.  Therefore, he is not and cannot be guilty of treason (18 USC CHAPTER 115).
Whether Julian Assange engaged in espionage is a question that remains to be answered.  However, it would raise a broader question – how does the United States deal with journalists (who are protected under Free Speech) and sensitive information?  For instance, Robert Novak outed an undercover CIA operative and he did not have to cool his heels in prison.
The most distasteful part of this and related episodes is that all this is occurring under the Obama administration.  The President had committed to having the most transparent government.  Here is the exact language of President Obama’s pledge, made the day after he took office:
The directives I am giving my administration today on how to interpret the Freedom of Information Act will do just that. For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city. The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over. Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known.
To be sure, issues like personal privacy and national security must be treated with the care they demand. But the mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret does not mean you should always use it. The Freedom of Information Act is perhaps the most powerful instrument we have for making our government honest and transparent, and of holding it accountable. And I expect members of my administration not simply to live up to the letter but also the spirit of this law.
I will also hold myself as President to a new standard of openness. Going forward, anytime the American people want to know something that I or a former President wants to withhold, we will have to consult with the Attorney General and the White House Counsel, whose business it is to ensure compliance with the rule of law. Information will not be withheld just because I say so. It will be withheld because a separate authority believes my request is well grounded in the Constitution.
Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency. (bold and italics added)
What wonderful words, and a clear promise.  The cynic in me told me otherwise even then, but I held out hope for the Obama administration.
The fog has cleared and to those uninfected by the two-party divide it is apparent that the actions of the Obama administration are not consonant with his rhetoric.  His administration has continued the trend of labeling whole swaths of documents Secret.  They have done so liberally (no pun intended) and in the name of national security.  In this, and not merely this alone, the Obama administration has continued the flawed policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush (certainly, no liberal).  As happy as I was to hear President Obama's promise, I am equally disappointed to see him abandon it.  Especially, since, he had boldly stated that he was not afraid to be a one-term president.
The Council on Foreign Relations had an interview on How Wikileaks Affects Journalism, which is a good read. The value Wikileaks brings to journalism, and how that can serve to inform and aid democracy is not hard to understand.  The bigger issues concern the assault on free speech and the continued frivolous use of secrecy by our government.  And that is a debate in which we should be engaged.  Wikileaks and Julian Assange have transformed from an information dump to a judicious outlet of clearly vetted info, in concert with well-respected newspapers.  Wikileaks and Julian Assange are leading a new form of journalism and should be accorded the same protections.

For those who have read thus far, enjoy this video of Amy Goodman's interview of Daniel Ellsburg (who leaked the Pentagon Papers and helped end the Vietnam War).  This is followed by a creative (and funny) look at the recent happenings.  The allusion to Gadaffi was in the diplomatic communiques recently leaked by Wikileaks.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Opposing Healthcare: Rational or Irrational?

by Gaurav Singh

Predictably, the Healthcare law passed recently has come under legal challenge.  In this video, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) made a cogent case for, as well as exposed the irrational argument against, spreading the risk (widening the pool) of the insured.

So, is the opposition to universally mandated (affordable) health insurance rational or irrational?  Well, it depends on who you are.

There is a dissonance between the value of health insurance for voters and politicians.  Furthermore, there is a dissonance within voters, as well as within politicians.  Why should that be so when universal health insurance is, as I shall show, a cost effective way of addressing this national crisis? 

In short, it depends upon incentives and self-interest and with what and whom these are aligned.

In that regard, opposition to the law recently passed (as well as, the fear of Universal Healthcare) may appear rational for some politicians.  It is simply not principled (I explain this below).

Mandated Universal Health Insurance is a mechanism that achieves the goal of minimizing risk by diversifying it across the populace.  Investors in the stock market routinely seek to minimize their risk while maximizing the upside, and they do it by diversifying their portfolio.  Diversifying a stock portfolio makes sense to most rational people.

While diversifying makes sense to rational investors, when related with the stock market, the same principle seems no longer sensible to many presently opposed to diversifying the pool of those insured for health.

Why such dissonance?  Did the math, and statistical probability underlying the risk analyses suddenly become inapplicable?  Of course not!  However, something did change.

To simply state that people are not always rational would miss the point.  At play here is an economic phenomenon.  The gains or benefit from investing in stocks are personal, while gains from healthcare are shared (they are spread over the population). Specifically, those who are a lower risk (healthy, young people) get a lower payoff than those who are a higher risk (generally older and disease-prone people).  Therefore, the payoff is higher for being rational in terms of personal investments (stock market). The payoff is not nearly as high for supporting universal healthcare.  The younger and healthier one is, the payoff from bearing the cost of health insurance actually decreases - that is, the personal value for health insurance decreases.

So, does that mean that mandated health insurance is not in our interest?  Far from it, the fact is that mandated health insurance is in our public interest, but it may appear that it is not in our own, pure self-interest.  More specifically, it is not in the pure self-interest of those individuals who are healthy and young, or wealthy and older.  Public interest and pure self-interest are not always the same.  However, a strong case can be made that, philosophically, they are intrinsically related and inseparable.  It depends upon the idea and magnitude of the self – how large is my idea of my self, but let's save that for another day.

We routinely restrain pure self-interest in service of the public good.  For instance, society has deemed it necessary to mandate minimum liability auto insurance.  Why?  Because if you feel the need not to have auto insurance and crash into me (or my property), then I should not have to endure a large financial cost because of your irresponsible decision.

Similarly, health outcomes have a cost that is shared by society. Only we do not see it everyday.  And it doesn’t hit us with jarring force, like an auto accident.  But every time we complain about our taxes, we are in some part complaining for having to pay for folks who go to the emergency room.

Why do they go to the emergency room, rather than to their primary care doctor?  They do so because they do not have health insurance!

Going without insurance to the doctor entails a high cost, as does visiting the emergency room at any local hospital.  Except, the doctor in private practice can refuse to see you if you are not insured, since they know you will not pay them.  But the emergency room cannot turn you away.  And guess who pays for it?  All of us, the taxpayers, bear that cost.  Many individuals and families who are made to bear responsibility for such costs find themselves financially ruined.

Think of how much cheaper it would be to visit the primary care physician for treatment or medical advice.  You make a copayment for all preventive care, in addition to your regular insurance payments.  Larger treatments may entail a coinsurance.  But that cost is considerably less than going to the emergency room for the same treatment.  Actually, the difference is in orders of magnitude.

Is it really that hard to understand that the more people there are in a group the overall risk, as well as the per person cost of a program, is reduced?  That is the basis upon which insurance operates.  Insurance is about managing risk.  In short, there is a larger shared benefit when risk is spread amongst a larger group of people.  The validity of my case is evident by comparing the cost of any private vs. group insurance.

Then, there is the issue of adverse selection.  If young, and potentially healthier, people stay out of the pool of the insured because they are healthy, then by default the pool of the insured will include those who are not as healthy, and result in a higher cost for all who are insured.

In such a marketplace of choice, who will seek insurance?  Overwhelmingly, it would be folks who think (or know) that they need to be insured, i.e. those who are likely to be unhealthy!

This is a simple, yet pertinent, reasoning that is lost on those who rail against the virtues of universal healthcare.  By having a choice the healthy stay out of the insurance pool yet, when needed, they go to the emergency care.  They do so because the benefits are personal and the costs are shared.   Conversely, by mandating health insurance society ensures that the benefit and cost both are shared.  What we need is to be made painfully aware of the actual cost of having a broken healthcare system – what we actually pay (through our taxes) to sustain the system at this time and the actual savings via a mandated health insurance.

So, why are many politicians forwarding an irrational argument?  Simply put, it is a matter of incentives and interest – both public and self.

Actually, one needs to parse the meaning of public interest. Public interest comprises collective good.  The collective is made up of individuals, but transcends pure self-interest.  When we act in the public interest or for the public good, our choices help more than just ourselves, although we do accrue a smaller benefit.

It is pure self-interest to which opportunistic politicians speak, when they bring to light that Universal Healthcare is not in people's self-interest.  But, they conflate it with the public good which is clearly not the case.  These politicians are highlighting selective parts that actually distort the bigger picture.

Now, we generally give up pure self-interest everyday in order to serve the public good.  For example, parks and infrastructure such as roads and bridges are public goods and serve the public interest, paid for by all of us.  We just do not take money out of our pocket to keep these running.  It is included in our taxes.  Health insurance is paid weekly or monthly, so it hurts.

But why do politicians make a case to undermine the public interest?  The primary functional goal of a politician is to get re-elected.  That may sound cynical, but it is true.  Assuming all politicians are honest and enter politics to serve the public good, they would need to stay in office for them to continue to serve the public.  Therefore, politicians are functionally interested in re-election and after all is said and done they hope to do more good than harm.  Again, it sounds like a cynical qualification, but is it?

All honest politicians want to do what is “good” in their view, the problem is that other politicians disagree, and are committed to their own view of the “good”.  And in our system of government bifurcates the power into three branches  - legislative (Congress), judicial (Courts) and the executive (President) - and two branches (House and Senate) within the legislative branch – the lawmaking body.  It is a painful process to get a bill to become law.  I highly encourage all to watch this short video below to appreciate that process.

Repealing a law takes a whole new dimension when the law actually serves the public good.  It is a problem, in my view, that President Obama did not make the case for Universal Healthcare - a campaign promise, in favor of an easier product - a compromised and flawed bill, which is nevertheless an improvement over the status quo. 

House members have to seek re-election every two years.  Therefore, these elected representatives want to fashion legislation to serve the public good, while constantly concerned with raising money for re-election and having to compromise with other politicians serving the interests ("good") of their constituents.

But who are their constituents?  That is more complicated.  For politicians, constituents include voters, but also include interest groups that lobby to have their preferences considered.  These interest groups include experts who advise (wink, wink!) elected representatives on the merits and demerits of certain provisions of any particular legislation.  In fact, these “experts” pretty much write the law that is to essentially govern them.  So, politicians are more vested to interest groups that support them, like health insurance companies, than individual voters who may express their preferences thru emails, letters or phone calls.  Only coordinated action by a sizable number of voters can sway legislators.

The above is not to justify in any way the actions of politicians.  I do not.  It is only to shed light upon the process.

So, from the politicians’ vantage point they are taking rational positions that support their chances of re-election.  The problem is that their interest is not always aligned with the interest of their constituents (I mean you and me).  Citizens, you and me, can have wildly different interests than elected representatives, as should be clear by now.

To many politicians who oppose universal healthcare, then, it would appear they are acting rationally.  That is because they are serving their main objective, which is to stay elected and to do, on average, more good than harm through the complex system of checks and balances of our system of government that constrains their choices.

However, these politicians are not being honest when they say that they are being principled.  They are not.

Since, mandating universal health insurance is a public good, in that it serves the public interest, it would be a principled position for every politician to support this measure.  Unless it is their intention to work solely for self-interest.  But if they were to make that revelation, then they simply would not be re-elected.  So, the real question is whether Health insurance for all Americans is in the public interest, since politicians are universally and rhetorically committed to serving it. I hope the reasoning above makes clear that mandated health insurance for all Americans is obviously and provably in the public interest.

Finally, the reasoning that government cannot manage healthcare and that private sector can do it better is ridiculous.  We already know that the private system of health insurance is broken and based upon choice, which clearly does not work.  We also know that the government manages Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Defense, Law & Order, Mail, and Education, etc.

Effectively, the healthcare problem could have been addressed by including everyone within Medicare.  However, leave it to the Democrats to botch this rational sell to the American people.  Just kidding.  It is not easy to make the case for mandated health insurance in one line.  It is certainly easier to use fear-mongering tactics and confuse the voters.

Still, persistent and cogent reasoning can win this debate.  And that is a fight President Obama should gear up for.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rajneeti (Politics)

A voice from Panjab addressing the political landscape and dearth of accountability.  On second thought, this applies not just to Panjab.  Rak Kakra's observations ring true well beyond South Asia.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Human Being or Human Doing?


The bell sounded as always. It was three in the morning. There was a great commotion as all the monks hurried to the freezing water that awaited the start of their bathing ritual. If one may call it bathing. But today instead of the usual chatter they heard a melodious voice. It was soothing, unfazed by the chill of the early morning and the bite of the water.

All eyes turned to the new student. Enraptured by the melody he created so effortlessly, the monks did not know what to make of this child. A singing monk, they sneered. But the singing child was free of all care, seemingly mocking the world which did not appear to touch him. He sang, as he slowly poured the melted ice over his thin frame, savoring these sensations. 
Those who flow as life flows know
They need no other force
They feel no wear
They feel no tear
They need no mending
No repair



A few hours they sat in meditation, trying hard to still their mind. Later, during discussion, the Teacher asked the monks if they had worked hard enough at quieting their mind. “What”, asked the Teacher, “was uncovered in the infinity of silence? What saw you in that clearing? Think clearly and answer.”

The blank faces stared at each other. Some embarrassed, looked intently at the floor, as though they would  uncover the answer from within the cracks that lined the floor. Some giggled, but  everyone was too afraid to speak, lest they risk ridicule by their peers. Unexpectedly, a soft voice arose… 
The wise man does not strive
The ignorant man ties himself up


Every head turned to witness the sacrificial lamb. The student had the undivided attention of the gathering, as well as of the Teacher. 
If you work on your mind with your mind
How can you avoid an immense confusion?


The Teacher was not used to hearing wisdom from one so young. To know required years of toil. The Teacher smiled. He would enjoy making an example of this impolite child. He would bring the boy in line with their monastic ways. A tradition of a thousand years was testimony to the fact that it required struggle, arduous struggle, for one to clean off all the dirt and grime of this world.
He smiled patiently and baited the young student. 
The body is the Bodhi Tree
The mind like a bright mirror standing
Take care to wipe it all the time
And allow no dust to cling


The other monks looked to each other and seemed quite satisfied. Then glancing over at the new student they whispered silent insults and shook their heads in rejection of his seeming rebellion. 
There never was a Bodhi Tree
Nor bright mirror standing
Fundamentally, not one thing exists
So where is the dust to cling?


The Teacher was speechless.

The student continued, “The whole idea of purifying the mind is irrelevant and confusing because our own nature is fundamentally clean and pure. Our true mind is not an object to be grasped or controlled. And to attempt it is to go around a vicious circle.”

“To try to purify the mind is to contaminate it with purity”, said the student with quiet authority. “It is obvious that a person is not genuinely free, detached or pure when his state is the result of an artificial discipline. He is just imitating purity, just faking clear awareness.”

The Teacher, clearly ruffled by now implored, “To have knowledge one needs to struggle, work extremely hard for years. Then, can one know the truth.”

The student responded, 
All knowledge studies others
Wisdom is self-known


The deep silence that followed created a listening for the student to continue. 
There is no need to run outside
For better seeing
Nor to peer from a window
Rather, abide
At the center of your being
For the more you leave it
The less you learn
Search your heart and see
If he is wise who takes each turn
The way to do, is to BE


All attention was on the student. Eyes that condemned him mere minutes earlier, now implored. The Teacher felt a deep silence within his core and waited for the boy to continue.

The Teacher also began to recognize that his years of toil were mere practiced actions, ritualized gestures without meaning. He saw that his religious value was but a cheap imitation of a pioneering feat reached over a millennium ago by an authentic seeker. He saw now that senses must be sharp and the wit quick enough to pierce the Universe and become insight. But all his years of training were akin to an invalid being spoon-fed. It had dulled the experience, as well as the one experiencing. What wisdom was going to be come upon, when one does not even crave the insightful experience of Truth?

The student asked everyone “why have you shunned society and isolated yourself? Has it truly helped you rise above the dirt and the grime of the world? 
It is not a question of living in the world or above it
But one must find the way to be in both and love it



With great compassion the student added, 
A sound man’s heart is not shut within itself
But is open to other people’s hearts
And I find good people good
And I find bad people good
If I am good enough;
I trust men of their word
And I trust liars
If I am true enough;
I feel the heartbeats of others
Above my own
If I am enough of a father
Enough of a son


Softly, the student started towards the large wooden gate that shut out the world. The other students, who once were monks, watched overwhelmed. Then slowly, one by one, they ventured out of the confines of the monastery. Outside, an unpredictable world waited.

Note: I shall not claim originality as this was written during moments of inspiration, having read many great works and after significant ontological realizations. This was from around 1997/98.

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