Star Wars: The Last Jedi


Luke: What do you see?

Rey: Light…. darkness….. the balance….?

Luke: It’s so much bigger.

What do these words from the trailer mean?

The following is one of the mainstream interpretation, and although I try to avoid topics that are covered in the mainstream, this one is too good to pass up.

In many spiritual traditions, and in our own ordinary maturing as human beings, we tend to initially split between good and bad, light and darkness. We seek the light and avoid the darkness. That’s the safer approach, initially, until we gain some more experience and reach a certain level of maturity.

And then, we realize we need to outgrow it. We see the pitfalls in splitting life in that way. We realize that we all have both in us, and if we identify with one we have to suppress the other which doesn’t work in the long run. At a social level, we end up demonizing groups, which is not good for any of us.

So we need to find both sides in us. Find a larger whole that already embraces and includes both. Find ways to live with and from both. And in that process, we find some maturity and a different and more real type of kindness. We don’t have to demonize anything in ourselves or others. We recognize ourselves in the whole world, as it is. There is a deeper and more genuine empathy.

Is that why it’s time for the Jedi to end? If the Jedi only know and use the light side, they are out of touch with life and reality. A new approach is needed. And Rey may be one of the first ones to be trained in this new approach.

Embracing both sides we find something so much bigger than either one. So much richer, fuller, more mature, and – if done with some skill – more kind in a real way.

It can also be a dangerous transition. We go from a safer and more immature identification with the good, to getting to know and embracing both sides. We often make mistakes in this transition, and that’s how we learn and mature. That’s how we find the deeper form of kindness that can come from embracing and befriending both.

There is nothing new here. This is part of any relatively mature spiritual tradition, and it’s what we realize growing up – at least most of us. It’s also not new in literature, mythology, or even movies. But if this is the theme of the new Star Wars movie, it’s certainly good that it comes into mainstream culture in this way. It is a message that can be helpful to many, especially younger ones, and especially in the US.

It may not be popular, but I still have to say that the US culture tends to be more obsessed with the good/bad split than many other cultures and has a more immature take on it. Evangelical Christians, and any form of Christian or religious fundamentalism, is an example of that more immature view. Other examples are, unfortunatly, how the US media tends to frame issues, and aspects of US foreign policy.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach although it does create some suffering and is dangerous if taken too far. And it’s also a stepping stone. One of an infinite number of stepping stones. Each one with its own drawbacks that we eventually discover, take to heart, and partially resolve with the next more inclusive approach.

Of course, this may not at all be how these words are explained in the movie. Somehow, I doubt it. I think they’ll take an approach that’s more “horizontal” in terms of maturity. One that doesn’t neccesarily require a step up in maturity.

And the Last Jedi movie poster is awesome. A great take on classic 50s sci-fi art.

Note: When Rey says “light” there is an image of Leia and a rebellion control room (I assume), when she says “darkness” we see Kylo Ren’s charred helmet (I assume), and when she says “the balance?” we see some books perhaps symbolizing wisdom and maturity.

Note II: I see that people talk about “grey Jedi” as a term for those who embrace the larger and more inclusive wholeness of the light and the dark. I don’t like the term since it sounds bland and as if the light and dark blend together. It’s much more about including both, the full spectrum. Maybe “full spectrum Jedi” is more accurate but obviously less catchy.

Note III: As mentioned above, there is an apparently safe simplicity in dividing the world into good and bad, and identifying with the good. It seems safe, and it’s also a bit naive since that’s not how the world works. We all have both in us, and identifying with parts within that split leads to scapegoating, dehumanization, us-them attitudes, and struggles with others and oneself. So eventually we realize we need to include both. We need to find both in ourselves, and learn to befriend both and live with and from both. And in that, there is a deeper and more mature kindness and compassion towards ourselves and others.

The simple dualism is a stepping stone. And the exploration of a more inclusive wholeness is also a series of stepping stones.

There is a slight risk here: the initial exploration of wholeness can be used to justify living from parts of ourselves in an unkind and less wise way. We can tell ourselves that “it’s good to embrace all of me, and that means it’s OK to be mean” or greedy, or hateful, or whatever it may be. I certainly saw that with some of the senior students at K. Zen Center. They used the wholeness principle to justify being jerks.

That too, of course, comes with consequences, and those consequences invite us to find a kinder and more mature path.

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Evil – what is it?

To me, filtered through my way of perceiving right now, it looks like this:

It comes from beliefs, identifications, unexamined fear, a desire to protect the imagined self.

It takes the form of hatred, numbness, strong projections, lack of empathy, and more.

It’s tempting because it may seem like a quick fix, it may seem to get us something.

And in this way, what can be labeled evil is not so different from what happens when any thought is believed. It’s just more extreme, and more harmful in a conventional sense. It also comes from a deep wound, which is unmet by love, and the response to this takes an especially destructive form.

We all have it in us. If we see it “out there” in others or the world, it’s because we know it from ourselves. And the invitation is to meet this too with love, with understanding, and through inquiry into the stories creating it – the fears, wounds, and pain.

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Nature is Satan’s church


Nature is Satan’s church
– from Antichrist by Lars Von Trier

I listened to an interview with Lars Von Trier where he talks about fear of nature and nature as evil.

It is an interesting topic, and one that is rooted in the cultural distrust of nature in Europe and some other places, and also in our evolution.

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Why do bad things happen to good people?

I listened to the episode called  This I Used To Believe from This American Life, and the following question came up in act two:

Why do bad things happen to good people?

My cultural background is such that this question hasn’t come up much for me, but it can still be helpful to explore it….

The world does not conform to our shoulds. I may label people and events good and bad, and have a story that bad things shouldn’t happen to good people, but the world is not going to conform to my stories, and that is probably a very good thing. (It would be crazy otherwise, partly since we all have different shoulds and our shoulds change over time.)

Our ideas of good and bad are just that, ideas. Opinions. Stories created by mortal creatures of flesh and blood that see “good” as that which (appears) to support the life of me + us, and “bad” as that which does not support, or harm, the life of me + us. It is a very limited perspective. Hardly something to expect life to align itself with.

For each part of that initial statement – why do bad things happen to good people – the truth is that we don’t know. Our view is very limited, and formed through innumerable filters from physics, biology, culture and personal experience. We don’t truly know what is good or bad, or any whys.

There is the story of the Chinese farmer and his horse with its repeated reversals of what appears as fortunate and unfortunate. It all shifts with circumstances and viewpoints.

Grief, sadness, anger and so on are all another expression of love. I love someone, and that love takes those forms when I tell myself something bad happened to that person. It can be helpful to notice.

It is an invitation for recognizing our shared humanity, that we are all in the same boat. And for compassion and action as an opportunity to serve ourselves and others.

(From a practice view, it is an opportunity to notice and inquire into beliefs, to allow and be with experience as is and with kindness, to open our heart to ourselves and others, and to live from all of that.)

And finally something that is only helpful if it is recognized directly, it is all lila, the play of God. There are no separate selves to be hurt anywhere. (This is not very helpful if it remains just a story.)

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Evil and beating the head against the wall

In Suffering, Evil and the Existence of God, an opinion piece in New York Times, two books on that topic are reviewed. They seem to share a conventional Christian theological approach to the topic, the view that there is no good solution to the question of why a good God allows evil in the world, and they also share not going much further.

Within the conventional Christian views on this topic, we end up beating our heads against the wall. So the reasonable course of action would then be to go outside of this context and see what we can find there.

Why not look at why the Christian mystics have to say about the topic? What about other philosophies and religions? And maybe most importantly, why not explore it in your own experience?

Even a superficial inquiry into our own experience would tell us that (a) good and evil are human-made and culturally dependent concepts, and (b) suffering comes when our stories about what is and should be clash.

In a way, it is so obvious and so simple that it is easy to dismiss. We may notice it, explore it to some extent, and then tell ourselves that there has to be more to it than that. It cannot be that simple. And there may also be a fear that embracing this fully would lead to a breakdown of any shared norms into anarchy, nihilism, the worst forms of value relativism.

Exploring it a little further for ourselves, we find a freedom from identification with particular views, which is also a freedom to apply any view as seem appropriate to the situation. With this release of identification with views, the appearance of substance and inherent truth in views goes out, there is no need to defend or attack the truth of views anymore, and they appear as tools of limited and practical value only. We can allow ourselves to be guided by our experience and the natural empathy that arises when there is this release from identification with views, and freely and fluidly use any view that has practical value in a particular situation.

Good and evil, absolute and relative


Over the last few weeks, I have come across several references to Buddhism and The Work, and other similar approaches, as leading to nihilism… It is obviously coming from people who haven’t tried it out for themselves, and project something onto it, but it can still be useful to look at.

The easiest way to talk about it is through the filter of the absolute and relative

From the absolute, from void awake to itself, no stories are real… they have only limited and temporary truth to them, their reversals each also have truth to them, and altogether they reveal the inherent neutrality of any situation. It is all God, God’s will, the play and appearances of God. No matter how it appears, it is just appearances temporarily covering up God’s play. The world of form, the content of awareness, is the infinitely varied faces of God.

If this becomes a belief, a story taken as true, it can look pretty weird… it can easily take the form of nihilism, apathy, anti-social behavior, lack of empathy, reckless disregard for social norms and rules, and so on, dependent on what else is going on in the personality.

But if it is realized, if void is awake to itself, it is very different… here, it is expressed through natural empathy and compassion, through a deepening and maturing of the human self it is expressed through. It is expressed in a deeply human way… It looks like clarity, wisdom, compassion and wholehearted engagement in the world. It looks like a life lived for the benefit of the larger whole, in a deeply (and deepening) mature and skillful way.

It is the void playing the game through a human self, knowing it is a game, and acting from the compassion, wisdom and engagement that naturally comes up in this human self when it functions in the context of void awake to itself.

And this difference between belief and realization is why, on the relative level, all nondual traditions emphasize ethics and norms… before the void awakens to itself, live your life in an honest and sincere way, in a way that does as little harm to others and the larger whole as possible, and in a way that supports life as much as possible. These may all be the temporary appearances of the awake void, but this path is one that leads to the void to be awake to itself, and the suffering is real in that it is experienced as real… so why not reduce it as much as possible.

The absolute is free from good and evil (or bad), but at the relative everyday level, it is a useful distinction… live your life in a way that minimizes suffering and optimizes well-being and joy for yourself and others, including future generations.