Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Zhangjiagang Wisdom Studies Declaration (2013)

On the 29th of November 2013, a group of Chinese Wisdom Researchers met for two days during the fifth session of the Chinese Wisdom Studies Symposium and the third session of the Chinese Scientific Thinking Symposium, held in the city of Zhangjiagang, Jiangsu province. After reviewing the international and domestic development of Wisdom Studies over the last decade, the participants reached a fundamental consensus. The consensus is hereby published as the ‘Zhangjiagang Wisdom Studies Declaration.’

In the 21st century, with the ever deepening process of globalisation and the development of information technology, human society is facing new and challenging problems. Due to the unprecedented complexity of these problems, a superior (and outstanding) wisdom is required. However, as the development of information is at its height, knowledge can be retrieved at anytime. The rapid development of science and technology has led to unprecedented material growth, and this inturn has led to an accelerated rate of development of education in modern society. There is now an urgent need to develop the subject of Wisdom Studies so that society can benefit fully from its presence.

In recent years, knowledgeable people, both inside China and abroad, have started paying attention to this issue, and have begun to promote awareness of the emerging academic discipline of Wisdom Studies. In the United States, first there was the famous Psychologist Robert J. Steinberg who led a group of scholars in a spontaneous research programme in Wisdom Studies. Following this, there was the development of Wisdom Studies carried out at the University of Chicago. In Europe there is the ‘Berlin Wisdom Paradigm’ which has a group of Wisdom Study researchers. In China during the last 50 years of the 20th century there was the famous educator Luo Jia Lun who considered the relation between wisdom, learning, and knowledge. He produced a penetrating analysis of the three inter-related subjects.

The famous scientist named Qian Xue Sen, (as far back as the mid-1990’s), proposed a ‘Great Compendium of Wisdom Studies’ school of thought. In the 21st century, the famous educator Gu Ming Yuan, the President of the Chinese Association of Education, developed the academic subject of Wisdom Studies. Within China there has been the development of the Chinese Wisdom Project Research Council, together with the emergence of the International Chinese Wisdom Society in Hong Kong, as well as the Zhangjiagang City Wisdom Studies Project, and other similar academic institutes. As a consequence there have been a number of important academic conferences held, and many pioneering papers published on the subjects of wisdom, learning, and knowledge, which has led to the development of a practical curriculum designed specifically for Wisdom Studies. The academic brothers Zhang Qing Lin and Zhang Qing Song are credited with designing and implementing the first ‘Learning Wisdom in College’ courses, which have achieved many important results.

However, whether in China or the United States of America and despite the fact that leaders in both countries clearly advocate the development of wise thinking amongst the people, it has to be acknowledged that Wisdom Studies (and the ability to ‘think’ wisely) is an acquired skill, and that there must be appropriate planning if it is to be made socially acceptable and relevant to the masses. In this regard, Wisdom Studies remains in its initial stage of development. However, the fact that there are now ‘Wisdom Cities’, ‘Wisdom Tourism’, and ‘Wisdom Study Schools’ serves to illustrate the success of the project, and the willingness of people to embrace wisdom. In fact intelligence is the facility people use when choosing their words and actions – and it can be said that Wisdom Studies encourages the development of a clearer (and superior) thinking process. Wise thinking can be used to tackle the most difficult of problems with an innovation that is capable of producing new inventions. Amongst the workers, the use of wise thought is the foundation of the generation of all productive forces.

In order to promote and develop Wisdom Studies further, it is agreed that this ‘Zhangjiagang Wisdom Studies Declaration’ is a method designed to arouse the attention of humanity to its cause and application. This statement also reaffirms the commitment of Wisdom Studies Researchers already engaged in the task of developing the subject with a relentless pursuit of the highest level of spiritual (i.e. psychological) developmental knowledge and wisdom, that is possible to attain through the cultivation of human civilisation. We hereby collectively support the ‘Zhangjiagang Wisdom Studies Declaration’, and agree to the establishment of an ‘International Wisdom Day Plan of Action.’ We call upon the international community to support the call for the establishment of an ‘International Wisdom Day’ in a variety of ways. We are convinced that the establishment of an ‘International Wisdom Day’ through various activities and methods will create the conditions for the rapid development of the Wisdom Studies research programme, and in so doing facilitate the development of human intelligence to a higher level. This will make the 21st century the century of the development of true wisdom, which will see the raising of the level of human consciousness across the globe!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

the problem with pom poms

While I don't celebrate Christmas, it would appear that it is a major holiday for the mad kitten. She is literally buried in Christmas gifts. From the stuffed stocking with the highly desired pillow with the gold bow, to the 7 lb. bag of (shhh it's just diet food) treats she is mad for, to the bubbling Buddha fountain she can sip from to the piece de la resistance - the scratching post with the pom pom on top.

I think this may be the toy that finally causes her to snap and call for a pickup from her alien friends.

You see, the pom pom post is a gift from the pizza place up the street. This is no sisal wrapped toy, but a plush velvety kind of fabric covered post that stands upright and proud on a lovely cushioned base and is crowned by a purple pom pom that rests on a silver spring. I thought she was going to hyperventilate and pass out when she saw it. What is funny is normally it takes her a few minutes to warm up to a larger toy, but this run she was on top of the second I set it down. The first thing she grabbed at was the pom pom, which had been merrily swaying back and forth when I held the post in my arms.

She grabbed it and it stopped moving. She let go and tensed, but alas! The pom pom settled into an aloof rest. She grabbed it again, but still no life. Frustrated she turned to investigate the post and base. That was all well and good until she started scratching the post, and the pom pom began to dance around on its spring. She grabbed it, and it stopped. She let it go and it sat there. Cautiously, she crouched down like a sphinx and scratched meditatively on the post while keeping her eyes glued to the pom pom that danced away with each pull. She is madly frustrated and can't figure out how to keep the pom pom dancing without scratching. If she is scratching, she can't grab it. If she stops scratching, the pom pom goes still and that is just no fun.
She alternates between staring and scratching, before retreating for a snack and a sip under the Buddha's gaze.

I have to admit, this is the first year that Christmas - the holiday (not to be confused with 'Christmas - The Movie) really got under my skin. Normally, I can get into the spirit, even though it's not a holiday I have reason to celebrate by faith. And I also normally get into the spirit of the 'let's bitch about commercialism' etc. and so forth - but it was very different this year. I found it horrific.

A lot of it stemmed from watching all the stress and anger the "holiday season" causes. The endless greedy demands and expectations, the lack of interest in anything but yourself and how you come off - and that goes for the surge in charity acts too. I think - a lot of the intensity of my feelings comes from my accident and the aftermath - it has really hit home to me how as a global culture, we are so divorced from valuing human life for its potential and presence, and instead have become masters at putting a value holder in place of actually showing up for life. Everything has become potential collateral damage.

How do you find your way back to valuing life? It's become hard to even find that when you suffer loss as so many are so self-absorbed grief is only understood through personal pain, not in compassionate suffering.

 The new cult of illness and mystical recovery continues to disturb me because I feel like it is a misguided attempt to become reconnected to living, only without having to suffer for it.


Life can present so many puzzles. Like a pom pom on a wire, how do you keep something moving when it requires you to do something else that prevents you from fully engaging with the object of your desire? Or maybe, the message is that a large part of life is found in longing for the unattainable, but always striving towards it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ice, ice baby - money, madness and mad kittens

I am sitting here, the Mad Kitten is laying on my foot, holding my ankle with her claws just so and her head is stuffed up my pants leg. She is purring. When I shift, she extends her claws just the smallest bit to let me know that is not acceptable. It is our holiday tableaux. I would make it my Christmas card if I did such things.

It would appear the Pope is a communist. Or at least a Marxist, if his critics are believed. Francis has impressed me from the beginning with his words and actions. His recent public questioning of bonuses and salaries has brought about the denouncement of Marxism. I love him for his response that he wasn't but had known quite a few and they had been wonderful people.

The point that he is making is that there is a point when the reward ceases to have value and becomes just greed. Money is a curious thing. By itself it has no value, but currency is meant to represent the value of something else that cannot easily be toted around. Is money a necessity? Of course, even if you take a vow of poverty and refuse payment there will be someone 13 feet behind them with a small bag of coins to make the payment. Is there such a thing as too much money? Yes. Hard to believe isn't it? But there does come a time when money loses its value because it loses its usefulness. There is only so much rainy day security that you can have - money won't prevent death, illness or injury - while money can make care and recovery easier, there is no amount that can restore a human life, even if only partially taken.

That said, did you know that the human life is valued at $200,000? Give of take some inflation adjustments, in America this is the base amount assigned to every life. This is how we calculate costs when reviewing what highway projects and repair projects to undertake, as well as any other endeavor that carries the risk. You see, you don't have to do a 200 million dollar bridge repair if you have have 1.6 million to cover the average loss of human life or damage that will statistically happen over 10 years if the bridge is left untouched. When you run through the human slush fund, then you have to do the other repair work. Until then - go build a stadium.

The problem with capitalism and a free economy only lies with the resistance of its proponents to honestly state what they consider a commodity. Under these systems, a human life is a commodity that has a cash valuation in everything. The twisted faux capitalistic market we prance around where everyone tries to fund social welfare programs for no other reason that "life is cherished" and for reasons of "social responsibility," is why the economy is screwed up. A free market economy requires that all life have a monetary value placed on it, money is the placeholder for life - end of story.

The poor Pope makes the common mistake of blaming capitalism for not being something else.
But that's like kicking a dog because it should have been a platypus. The thing is, no society can exist with just one type of economy. Ask any 8 year old what the phrase "putting all your eggs in one basket" means and you can save yourself the trouble of
reading volumes on economic theory. Each part of society requires a separate micro
economy and then there must be a shared currency. Here's the problem - that currency must
be backed by something that holds the same level of value across all the micro-economies.
This is why a economy that values gold will never be compatible, or successful partners, with one that values frugality (the traditional definition of that word).

The other thing I watch with interest is the bitcoin, but that is a whole other story.

In short, the Pope is not a Marxist, its just that he is the leader of a marginalized society with an incompatible economic model and is trying to sway a society with a majority capitalistic one. But economic currencies also represent our core values - think about it.

I successfully swapped out the kitty crack with diet treats and the Mad Kitten is becoming
lighter, happier and more of a pain. She no longer has to lean against a wall to clean herself and no longer wheezes which is a relief. Of course, I have to suspend the diet food from a coat hook because she is just mad for it.


just mad for it

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Eating apples in a flying chair

Vision is a tricky thing. We don't see what is really there, our brains just sort of "ya-ya" us and fill in the details from experiential memories whether or not they match the reality of the present. This is why it can be so hard for witnesses to agree on details, siblings to remember the same family history, or to recognize someone we have only met once or twice. This problem with vision can also extend to how we imagine we appear to others.

It's too cold to ride the eZip very far. Even though I have added insulation to the batteries, the cold lowers the range so much that most days I have to take the bus. Not because the eZip couldn't handle the short trip on most days, but because the 2 hours it would have to sit in the cold between coming and going would mean going would turn into pushing. So I am taking the time to get ready for the next round of modifications and to also document what I am doing.

Just about everyone who buys one of these things winds up making changes. Before I bought mine I watched endless videos of what other people had done to theirs. Since I have a slight different angle to my modifications (range is god, not speed), I want to post my two cents as well. Last Sunday, it was overcast but warm enough for me to do my grocery shopping on it so I took pictures and made a small video.

Then I watched it.

And realized why so few of the videos I had seen showed an adult riding the eZip. I could barely stop laughing after seeing what I looked like and totally understood why the kids have nicknamed it "the flying chair." You see, in my mind's eye - I looked much cooler. Naturally, I then hunted around for the proper sound effect and voila!

The Flying Chair

A large part of the meditative practices of mindfulness and compassion involve developing the willingness to see things as they really are, not as we wish them to be.

It is easier to get an understanding of this with a very basic mindfulness exercise of practicing mentally acknowledging everything you see on your way to work, school or a store without passing judgment on it. You can say to yourself "There is the tree on the corner" but not "There is the beautiful tree."

The goal of the practice is to reduce your minds ability to cover vision with experience and encourage you to be present in the moment. Another easy way to practice is to set an interval timer that rings a bell or tone every 3 seconds for 3 minutes. Calm your breathing and every time the bell rings, shift your focus to something new and name it to yourself.

Developing the ability to practice compassion without projection is much harder. It can be difficult to truly desire freedom from suffering without your mind quickly filling in what that would look like. Or to practice loving-kindness without a limited definition of what love and kindness will appear as. It is one of the reasons that the four lessons of Liao Fan has been one of the most widely read books in the Eastern world, and least known in the West. Liao Fan's lessons start by outlining what we commonly expect with compassion, that somewhere it is connected to either a personal reward or retribution. As the lessons progress, the explanation is explored that the only type of compassion is that which is uncertain of its own act. This book has been popular in the East for centuries, not because they are more spiritually advanced or enlightened then the West, simply because they have been around longer than most Western societies.

What I hear, as I travel through my days, is a deeper questioning of the nature of compassion from people of a Western descent. We don't have a history with much teaching on it; we are just starting our explanation of it.

In America, perhaps the youngest of all Western societies, we are just tentatively finding our ability to stand on our own without the infants need for unconditional love and support. That need is solely person centric and excludes anyone else; until you reach it in its highest form when it excludes all individuality and separation.

In many of the economically marginalized communities in the US there is an informal index used to gauge if something is truly meant to benefit them, or if it is a vision of kindness and compassion wearing some very foggy glasses and incapable of seeing itself in the mirror. I was reminded of this the other day during a nutrition discussion. Fruits and vegetables came up and different ways of trying to afford them in your diet. This led to the mention of the farmer's market, which oddly enough I had just had someone talk to me about at another recent event.

The farmer's markets here, as in many other places, issue tokens or allow for food stamps to be used for purchases. Very few of the people who need food assistance take advantage of this. Why? It boils down to the apple index. As one woman put it,"If I go to the Farmer's market I will pay $3 for a lb. of apples, that's about 3 apples. They may be organic and locally grown, but that's a dollar an apple. I can get a 5 lb. bag for 99 cents at Save-a-lot. Maybe they aren't as good for me but I get to eat and apple or 2 a day."

Farmer's Markets work best when they know what they are. A wonderful way to support local farmers and artisans. Rather than try to hybridize them into food vehicles for the poor and reveal a gross misunderstanding of poverty and the role of food in culture - let them find a venue to provide other support. It doesn't take much. One of the most successful ones (in regards to benefiting all strata's of society) simply included a free area to sit and eat and hang out with your kids whether you had purchased anything or not.

Creating instances of community around what we already share goes much farther toward creating compassion than constantly trying to serve or negate differences. Instead of trying too hard to be everything, simply be what you are in that instance. You will be surprised at the benefit to others that appears.

As one very famous man said, "the poor you will always have." As another commented, "Save one dish and I will wait to teach the dhamma until the last farmer has set right his fields and can come share with us, who are provided for, without causing harm in his life."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pulling a Barbara Cartland

I had an idea. Actually, I had two and neither of them is really rock solid, but both of them kind of encapsulate the oddities in my life - of which I would be the largest. The first one had to do with ergonomics.

Depending on weather and other issues, sitting up can be uniquely uncomfortable and tiring. I have tried standing desks, loved them but then didn't like what it did to my lower back as I was standing on concrete. It also gave the Mad Kitten more opportunity to pull my pants down so work consistency suffered. Sunday I was tired and had unavoidable hours of computer work to do so I decided to pull a Barbara Cartland and work from bed. I propped myself up, arranged my version of bonbons and the Mad Kitten enthusiastically plowed face down beside me and snored the day away. The problem with this arrangement began Monday.

We even look alike :)

On Monday I woke up bright and early and went to go work at my deskish area. This was unacceptable to MK and we fought on and off throughout the morning. I have posted a picture of my amply compensated cat a few posts ago so you can imagine what she weighs. Now, add in that she is feral, smart and very determined. She literally would launch herself at me from all sides to bite and claw, taking aim at my neck, arms and legs. A fun time was had by all. By 5am, I moved the laptop back into bed and life calmed down.

The second idea I had also occurred on Sunday, in between naps, bonbons and working I went out to feed Ralph and friends. When I opened the door, Ralph (the amply compensated white pigeon) barreled over to me on a complete mission so determined I thought he was going to crawl up my leg. He stopped at my feet and did his "I'm hungry" dance which confused me. There was still rice left out from earlier in the morning. None of the other pigeons were eating it, Ralph was dancing away and that's when I realized the rice had frozen to the ground. Then the thought came, "I need a whistle." I am saying nothing more about this idea for now but by Spring, I may have an entire flock to do my nefarious bidding that will make Amazon drones look amateur.

Being the good Buddhist that I am, I just ordered a copy of Mother Theresa's letters. I have read about her letters but never pursued getting them because I knew that I wasn't ready to learn from them. Now, I feel like that point has arrived.

To say that she was a complicated woman is to commit an error of understatement. To realize that she did all of her work from the depths of despair after having lost her faith is astounding. We have such a need for the structure and stories that faith gives us to make sense of life that many who suddenly lose faith, don't survive to recover their life. Yet here is someone who lived, worked and sacrificed for years in the name of something that strengthened the belief of so many and powered so many good works and all along she was without any comfort or belief from the very faith that now seeks to canonize her. In many aspects she embodies the reality of working to improve community and also its greatest conundrum.

If the community is the most important embodiment of life, and it is best served by helping the individuals within the community – who helps the helpers and is that something that should happen at all? Part of the role that Mother Theresa embodied was that of someone powered by faith and vows to be self-sacrificing for the good of the whole. It is by the sacrifice for others that others were helped and could create a stronger community. So if this means that one must put others and community before your needs in that role, is there anyone who will ever do that for you and is that a just expectation? And how to you reconcile that she was the most extreme example of what a faith espoused, and that she was an icon of, without believing in it at all?

The one thing that none of the articles ever addresses is to whom Mother Theresa was writing. I am very curious to know the nature of her confidant. Is it, as is sometimes suspected, that the taking on of these types of roles embodies the Buddhist call to let go of all desire, self, ego and attachment? If then – what is the connection that is left to suffering and despair? There are Buddhist teachings on this but they are of a very deep and esoteric level, what they say is something that has a ring of truth but would completely undo its attraction to the Western world.

There aren’t really answers to these questions, and a good teacher will tell you so. To try and find a solid and final answer means you have stopped being willing to learn. Life is full of new situations for which we have no direction. We may have a misremembered past experience to draw from, or maybe we have adopted a belief with a set of rules to tell us how to act, but every second is new. Whoever said that everything has been done before really had no clue to the depth of the experience of living. Nothing has ever been done. From that point the experience of life can begin to look less bleak, and yet more sparse than ever before.

One of the things I am learning about building community is the definitions are not important, infact over defining a community can start the process of it coming apart before it is even in existence. It is in creating the space to voice unanswerable, and sometimes unthinkable, questions that begins to build a sense of belonging, safety and strength. It is in having a place to go where there are examples of people having made it through, not because they did things right or overcame something, but simply because they survived not knowing - that can make it such a supportive well.

I think I mentioned that I had purchased battle ropes for Dragon Mountain. I decided on them because of me. Since there is so much cardiovascular activity I can’t do anymore, I needed to replace it. I had to find a way to get that kind of activity in place in a life where it could no longer be done the normal way. Also, martial arts fairly well is awful for cardio activity. It can have its moments, but there are few styles that maintain a way of teaching that can include it because it is just downright unappealing to people.

I researched and researched and the battle rope won out as the best, low impact, varied form, full body and high cardio activity. So I got one. The Mad Kitten hates it. One day of watching her treatball and her turkey tangle get caught up in the ropes and thrown around and she takes off to hide the moment it uncoils. I love it. The students love it. It wiped out the first 2 hour Kung Fu class in 19 minutes last Saturday.

On Monday night, the 8 year old girl showed up. I knew she would want to try it so I came up with some safer exercises and we played around with it. Then she got tired. Then she got bored. Then she started trying to pull herself along with the rope in a kind of bunny scoot across the carpet. I am not sure what got into all of us but that launched 30 minutes of profound experimentation with clipboards, cutting boards, standing and sitting that resulted in her father being on one end of the room and I being on the other with the ends of the battle rope wrapped around our waists as she sat on my plastic cutting board and pulled herself across the room just laughing and laughing.