Bob Schwartz

I. Can’t. Say.

I. Can’t. Say.

ask me today
where I am from
I
can’t
say
ask me tomorrow
I
will
tell
you
I am not from where

© Bob Schwartz

Note: There is a cold morning rain in the desert. Waiting long enough there will be cloudless sun and scorching heat.

MLK: “There’s a king at the glory river”

Come on, people, come on, children
There’s a king at the glory river
And the precious king, he loved the people to sing
Babes in the blinking sun sang “We Shall Overcome”

I got fury in my soul, fury’s gonna take me to the glory goal
In my mind I can’t study war no more

Laura Nyro – Save the Country

Come on, people, come on, children
Come on down to the glory river
Gonna wash you up and wash you down
Gonna lay the devil down, gonna lay that devil down

Come on, people, come on, children
There’s a king at the glory river
And the precious king, he loved the people to sing
Babes in the blinking sun sang “We Shall Overcome”

Come on, people, sons and mothers
Keep the dream of the two young brothers
Gotta take that dream and ride that dove
We can build the dream with love, I know
We can build the dream with love

I got fury in my soul, fury’s gonna take me to the glory goal
In my mind I can’t study war no more

Save the people
Save the children
Save the country

The binary and the infinite: What we learn from computers, the I Ching, the Bible and breathing.

We live today and have long lived in what seems to us, at first glance, a binary world. So it seems.

At their most basic, computers are binary machines. Countless combinations of yes/no, on/off decision circuits, adding up, as speed and the number of decisions increase exponentially, to processes that mimic (or exceed) human thought.

The I Ching begins its panoramic presentation of world with a simple binary calculation: either a solid yang line or a broken yin line, combined into eight trigrams and sixty-four hexagrams, from which the entire nature of life and time is profiled, if not actually predicted.

Traditions, such as Taoism, Zen and others, suggest non-duality. That reality exists between those choices we are so attached to. That it is not either/or, not neither/nor. Computers agree. Reduced to each of the billions of digital decisions, binary means nothing. The I Ching reduced to a single line means little. The meanings, all of them, are in the matrix of combinations.

The Bible agrees. It would seem, in its rules and lists, to promote binary behavior. The Ten Commandments are a prime example. But at the literal first moment, if we immerse ourselves in the question of what is between existence and non-existence at creation (contemplation that according to one legendary interpretation drove the Talmudist Ben Zoma crazy), the answer may be everything. The Book of Ecclesiastes, famous for saying that all is ephemeral vapor and listing the binary poles (a time to laugh, a time to weep…), is telling us we live now and ever in the changes in between. Not unlike the I Ching.

Physics has also given up on the binary. Simplistic analysis has given way to acknowledgement that as much as we would like to hold on to a concept of this or that, now or then, the physical world at a foundational level exists in simultaneous multiple states.

Not everything about our organic human lives is binary, but plenty of it is. Ten has its place (fingers, toes), but a distinct second place to two. Two arms and hands, legs and feet, eyes, ears, lungs.

Lungs bring us to breathing, the penultimate binary. Inhale, exhale. There is nothing in between. The failure of that binary leads to the ultimate: life, death. Some do posit an alternative to that binary, a third option. But if we just stick to life/death, what do we learn about either one from this discussion of binary?

Things as they are are not exactly binary, except we make them so. This doesn’t mean that one can think away breathing or death. No inhale/exhale, no life happens. But the values in between—the digital fabric, the I Ching, the space between existence and non-existence, the time between laughing and weeping, the quantum states—are where it is at.

Trump threatens Iranian cultural sites: A breach of civilized laws and conventions. An appeal to his nationalist Christian supporters.

Naghsh-e Jahan Square, Isfahan, Iran. Constructed between 1598 and 1629. UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.

Ordering or carrying out the destruction of cultural sites in Iran or anywhere else as a part of hostilities is unequivocally illegal under American and international law, reprehensible and worthy of condemnation, and unworthy of civilized nations.

This didn’t stop Trump from threatening such destruction multiple times in the past few days. This has led top civilian and military leaders in the administration, when asked about it, either to deny that Trump said it or to say that we would of course follow the law, though they never explicitly say the words “no cultural sites.”

This has been labeled just some more transgressive and unconventional bluster from Trump, spouting things he doesn’t understand and doesn’t really mean.

There is something else going on.

We begin with Iran, home of one of the oldest and culturally richest civilizations. It has 24 of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with more under consideration (see picture above).

Persia was a Zoroastrian empire before being conquered by the Caliphate in 651 CE, when it became an increasingly Islamic nation, now 99% Muslim. Note that at no time has it been a Christian nation, which makes all of its cultural progress and heritage theologically “suspect” or “evil” according to some people.

There is little in that previous paragraph that Trump knows or understands. What he does know is that a portion of his most loyal supporters respond enthusiastically to anything that threatens people and their culture who are not American, not white, and not Christian (for some of those supporters, but only some, Jews get a pass because they are part of the pathway to a Second Coming).

That is why Trump threatens Iran’s cultural sites. It is possible, given his belief that he is the Supreme and Irrefusable Leader, that he thinks the military would carry out such an order. They won’t. Mostly, though, carried out or not, he thinks it shows that he is on the side of those nationalist Christian supporters. He is.

Rationale for any bad behavior: I’m just a regular person, so if it’s okay for a president, it’s okay for me.

From an interview with Mark Galli, retiring editor of Christianity Today, whose editorial criticized Trump’s immoral conduct in office and called for his removal:

Do you think evangelicals’ willingness to excuse Mr. Trump’s behavior will translate to a more broad willingness to forgive bad behavior by politicians, or does it seem to be Trump-specific?

I think his supporters would say it is limited to Trump. But I will say that some of his closest followers are, in a sense, being discipled by him. Mr. Trump’s typical response to a critic is to frame the entire conversation as a competition between success and failure.

The question is too narrow. The question should be: Do you think evangelicals’ willingness to excuse Mr. Trump’s behavior will translate to a more broad willingness to excuse their own bad behavior?

The answer is yes.

In fact, the willingness of evangelicals, Republican politicians, and many others to excuse Trump’s behavior is precisely based on that. Trump is a get-out-of-hell-free card. “I already told you that it isn’t wrong for him to [fill in the blank]. So obviously it isn’t wrong for me.”

Upgrade Ourselves: The Significance of Life at the New Year from Master Yin Shun

“Human beings can avoid evil deeds, perform good deeds and accumulate merits. We can upgrade ourselves.”
Master Yin Shun

Following is an excerpt from the work of Master Yin Shun (1906-2005).

Yin Shun was a Chinese Buddhist teacher and scholar, a primary contributor to the revival of Buddhism in China and the formation of a twentieth century Humanistic Buddhism. He is hardly known in the West because so little of his writing has been translated. About the volume of his work, Mark O’Neill writes:

His writing career started in 1942 with a treatise on Indian Buddhism and his last major academic work was in 1989, on the same topic. He wrote an astonishing seven million characters.

The Buddhism of Yin Shun is difficult to classify and belongs to no one school. His goal was to promote a Buddhism true to original dharma and fitting for the twentieth century and beyond. Western students have become familiar with many teachers with the same goal, each with a distinctive voice. The voice of Yin Shun, rarely heard in English, is among these.

This excerpt is taken from one of the few English translations of his work, Teachings in Chinese Buddhism. (Also available is The Way to Buddhahood.)


From the Miao Yun Collection, Volume 11 by Venerable Yin Shun:

However, to place the significance of life on the family, or nation, or the human race is not one that people like to do willingly. We try to hang on to something because of the fear that our body and mind will degenerate one day. But can we assure that these are the real meanings of life? If the significance of life is on the family, for those who do not have any offspring, does it mean that it is meaningless to live? If the significance of life is on the country, from the perspective of history, there were so many highly prosperous countries and civilizations, but where are they now? They have long vanished and are only regarded as anthropological evidences now! Then, what about living for the advancement of mankind? Human activities rely on the existence of the earth. Although it may still be a very long time to go, it is inevitable that the earth will degenerate one day. What is significance of life when the earth ceases to support the human activities? It seems these three significances of life adopted by most people will eventually become void….

The concept of “a future in the heaven” has been used by most worldly religions, especially religion with God in the Western countries to explain the significance of life. In these religions, the world where we humans now live, is just an illusion. Human beings that live in this world, believe in the God, love the God, and abide by His instructions in order to go to the Heaven in the future. Some religions say, the end of the world is coming, and those who have no faith in the God will be trapped in the hell of eternal suffering; whereas those who believe in the God will get into the heaven and enjoy the eternal bliss. So it would seem, all the faith, morality and good actions people do is motivated by their desire to prepare for their entry into the heaven. But this heaven is something for the future. It is impossible to go to heaven while still living as a human being. Therefore, the concept of a heaven is only a belief. In reality, heaven cannot be proven to exist. It seems rather vague to use the existence of something that cannot be proven as one’s purpose for living!

As mentioned earlier, Buddhism denies that there is any permanent and absolute significance of life, and described life as unsatisfactory (s. dukkha) and void (s. sunyata). However, Buddha acknowledged that there is a relative significance of life, and it is through this relative and conditioned nature of life that we can achieve and realize the universal truth. According to the discourses of the Buddha, our lives, and the world, are nothing but phenomena that rise and fall. It is a process of forming and degenerating. There is nothing that is not subject to change or impermanence. Impermanence indicates that there is no eternal bliss, because even a joyous state will eventually cease and become suffering. Because there is suffering, there will be no ultimate and complete freedom. Hence, the Buddha taught about non-self (‘self’ implies the existence). The Brahmin of the Buddha’s era considered life and the world by conceptualizing that there was a metaphysical entity who has the nature of “permanence”, “happiness” and “self”. This concept was completely refuted by the Buddha and He described it as delusion. The Buddha observed the reality and taught the truth of “impermanence”, “suffering” and “non-self”. From these truths of life, i.e. impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and non-self, how can we establish the significance of our lives?…

From the principle of cause and effect, Buddhism explains that the body and mind activity of an individual, be it good or evil, will not only affect the individual internally, creating potentially habitual tendencies (karma), but also influence others externally. When our body and mind disintegrate and death comes, our habitual tendencies (the karma), with our desire to be reborn and attachment to life as the conditions, propagates into a new composition of body and mind. This is the beginning of a new life. From continuous causes and conditions and their effects, impermanence and non-self, there is an infinite flow of life which continues from one to another. (This is different from the teachings of other religions that there is a permanent soul.) This is like a country, where there is a continuous disintegration of dynasties followed by the formation of new dynasties.

Life is dependent originated. For all the good and evil deeds we do, their results will be experienced in this life, or in our new lives in the future. The Law of Cause and Effect is the axiom. The combinations of mind and body of this life will disintegrate and die. All our actions, the good and evil deeds, will determine our future. The karma of sentient beings is continuous, be it good or evil, has a positive or negative significance which will influence our conditions in the future. Therefore, death is part of the process of life; it is not a sudden disappearance. Every act has its result, life after life, we continue to create new karma. When we experience temporary suffering or downfall, we should not feel disappointed. It will be only a temporary phenomenon. Our future may still be bright. The avoidance of suffering and the attainment of happiness can only be achieved by avoiding evil and doing good according to the Law of Cause and Effect. It cannot be achieved by pure luck nor by the help of any God.

To be able to lead a human life is actually the result of the good karma. The good or evil deeds of this life will determine the higher or lower realms of our future life. The Buddha kept telling us that “It is precious to be born as human”. However, many Buddhists sometimes misunderstand the teaching of the Buddha. They only brood over the suffering of human beings, and do not appreciate that it is precious to be born as a human being!

According to the Sutra, humans have three supreme characteristics. These characteristics are not only better than animals, ghosts and beings in the hells, but they are also better than the Devas in the heavenly realms. What are these characteristics? They are morality, knowledge and steadfast determination. In the human world, we know about suffering and are able to help those who suffer. But morality, knowledge and human determination is sometimes not completely satisfactory. It has its side effects, sometimes including a tendency for humans to self-destruct. But through these three qualities, human beings are able to develop a sophisticated culture. This is a fact that cannot be denied.

During the evolution of mankind, we have come to realize that there is dissatisfaction and incompleteness in life. This prompts us to pursue perfection and completion. Human beings can avoid evil deeds, perform good deeds and accumulate merits. We can upgrade ourselves. According to Buddhism, humans are the only beings that can renounce the world and aspire to the mind of Bodhi (Bodhicitta). Only human beings can transcend relativity and have the possibility to experience the absolute state (which corresponds to the initial state of enlightenment). How precious human life is! We should understand the value of, “It is precious to be born as human”. Then the significance of life can be well understood. We should appreciate and utilize our lives, and do our best not to waste it.

A rise in expressive and aggressive hateful words and actions is not hard to explain. Just hard to fix.

People, to some degree and in some numbers, experience frustration, alienation and related negative emotions. Some of those people will speak out and act out in response to those emotions in hateful ways. The target for that speaking and acting out may be an individual or a group of individuals, identified by some affiliation or characteristics.

Two things are happening now, as they have happened before in history, and as they always will.

One is an increase in the drivers for that frustration and negativity. It may be economic, social, cultural, ideological. Certain trends are leading some people to feel themselves, individually and as part of a society, put upon by the way things are going.

The second thing is acceptance, encouragement and enabling of that acting and speaking out. The contributors to this are too long to list here, but include for example social media and high-profile individuals. Or better said, high-profile individuals who use and exploit social media.

Once and still, we had and have counterbalancing forces, both in helping to reduce that sense of frustration and alienation and in tempering the acceptability of speaking and acting out in hateful ways. But the presence and power of those forces seems to be diminishing.

Unless and until those counterbalancing forces—those that help reduce frustration and alienation and those that temper the acceptability of hatefulness—regain power, we are not getting out of our situation anytime soon.

The Miracle of the Palm Tree (The Journey of Baby Jesus Continues)

More from The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (see previous post Baby Jesus Is Worshiped by Dragons and Other Wild Beasts)

20
The Miracle of the Palm Tree

1 Then, after these things, on the third day after they had started out, Mary was weary from too much sun in the wilderness, and seeing a palm tree she wanted to rest awhile in its shade. Joseph hastened to lead her to the palm and he had her descend from the donkey. When Mary sat down, she looked to the foliage on the palm and saw that it was full of fruit, and she said, “If only I could get some of that fruit from the palm!” Joseph said to her, “I am surprised that you’re saying this, when you can see how high the palm is. You are thinking of the fruit of the palm; but I am thinking about the water that we no longer have in our water skins; we have nowhere to replenish them to quench our thirst.”

2 Then the young child Jesus, sitting in the lap of his mother, the virgin, cried out to the palm tree and said, “Bend down, O tree, and refresh my mother from your fruit.” Immediately when he spoke, the palm tree bent its top down to Mary’s feet. Everyone gathered the fruit in it and was refreshed. After all its fruit had been gathered, the tree remained bent, expecting that it would rise up at the command of the one who had ordered it to bend over. Then Jesus said to it, “Stand erect, O palm, and be strong, and become a companion of my trees that are in the paradise of my Father. And open up from your roots the hidden springs, that water may flow from them to quench our thirst.” Immediately the palm stood erect, and from its roots springs of water began to come forth, clear, cold, and very sweet. When they saw the springs of water flowing, they all rejoiced with a great joy and drank, together with their beasts and companions, giving thanks to God.

The image above is taken from a 14th century manuscript of the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.

Baby Jesus Is Worshiped by Dragons and Other Wild Beasts

From The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew
The Other Gospels: Accounts of Jesus from Outside the New Testament
Edited and Translated by Bart D. Ehrman and Zlatko Pleše

The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew

17
The Wrath of Herod and the Flight to Egypt

1 When King Herod saw that he had been deceived by the magi, his heart was inflamed and he sent his soldiers out on every path, wishing to capture them. When he was not able to find a trace of them, he sent soldiers to Bethlehem and killed every infant from two years and under, according to the time that he had solicited from the magi.

2 One day before Herod had done this, Joseph was warned by an angel of the Lord, “Take Mary and the child and go, take the desert route to Egypt.”

18
Baby Jesus Is Worshiped by Dragons and Other Wild Beasts

1 When they arrived at a certain cave where they wanted to cool themselves off, Mary came off the donkey and sat down, and held Jesus on her lap. There were three male servants with them on the road, and one female servant with Mary. And behold, suddenly many dragons came out of the cave. When the servants saw them they cried out. Then the Lord, even though he was not yet two years old, roused himself, got to his feet, and stood in front of them. And the dragons worshiped him. When they finished worshiping him, they went away. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet in the Psalms, who said, “Praise the Lord from the earth, O dragons and all the places of the abyss.”

2 The Lord Jesus Christ, though just a small child, walked along with them so that he might not be a burden to anyone. Mary and Joseph were saying to one another, “It would be better for those dragons to kill us than to harm the child.” Jesus said to them, “Do not think of me as a young child, for I have always been the perfect man, and am now; and it is necessary for me to tame every kind of wild beast.”

19

1 So too both lions and leopards were worshiping him and accompanying him in the desert, wherever Mary went with Joseph. They went before them showing them the way and being subject to them; and bowing their heads with great reverence they showed their servitude by wagging their tails. But on the first day that Mary saw lions, leopards, and various other wild beasts surrounding them, she was terrified. The young child Jesus smiled in her face and spoke to her with a consoling word, saying, “Do not fear, Mother, for they are hastening along, not to hurt you but to serve you.” With these words he removed the fear from their hearts.

2 And so lions, asses, oxen, and beasts of burden carrying their baggage were all walking together with them, and whenever they made a stop, they would graze. There were also tame goats who came out with them and followed them from Judah; these were walking among the wolves with no fear. One was not afraid of another, and none of them was harmed by another in any way. Then was fulfilled what Isaiah said, “Wolves will pasture with sheep and the lion and ox will eat straw together.” There were two oxen used as pack animals with them on the way; lions guided them on the way of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose baggage they were carrying.

 

Notes from The Other Gospels: Accounts of Jesus from Outside the New Testament:

The book is a Latin reworking of the (Greek) Proto-Gospel of James, based probably on one or more Latin editions of that work that have long since been lost. There are numerous differences from the Proto-Gospel, in both contents and emphases….Pseudo-Matthew tells of the holy family’s flight to Egypt, during which the infant Jesus performs numerous miracles—taming dragons, lions, and leopards; making a palm tree bend down to deliver its fruit to a famished Mary; causing idols in an Egyptian pagan temple to bow down in worship before him. These were some of the most familiar stories of the Christ child throughout the Middle Ages….

There continue to be debates concerning when the Gospel itself was composed….Pseudo-Matthew must obviously date to some time in the mid-seventh century, at the earliest.

In the most thorough analysis to date, Gijsel has maintained that even though direct literary dependence on the Rule of Benedict cannot be demonstrated, there are enough general similarities to suggest that the book was written when monastic orders were beginning to expand in the West, by someone invested in them. Largely on these grounds he makes a convincing argument that the text was produced in the first quarter of the seventh century, by a monk in the Latin-speaking West who was enchanted by the account of the Proto-Gospel and its potential for conveying homage to Mary as a model virgin embracing the monastic ideal.

Not only was Pseudo-Matthew itself popular in such circles for nearly a millenium, its message was spread even further abroad as its reworked stories were themselves edited for incorporation in the eleventh-century book, Libellus de nativitate sanctae Mariae (“Book on the Birth of Saint Mary”) and by Jacob of Voragine in The Golden Legend (written 1260 CE), which was the most widely read and influential book of the late middle ages, down to the Reformation.

Hanukkah Hexadecimal Code

 

If four sides of a dreidel and eight candles are proving too simple for you, here is a way to expand the Hanukkah holiday—mathematically and mystically.

The eight-candle menorah is binary, that is, a candle is either lit (1) or unlit (0).

With eight binary places, the menorah is a type of hexadecimal, a code central to digital processing. Each of the eight places in a hexadecimal is occupied by a digit or a letter.

If you assign each of the eight candles, left to right, either a 0 or a 1, you can convert each from a hexadecimal to a numeric value:

First night of Hanukkah = 00000001 = 1
Second night = 00000011 = 17
Third night = 00000111 = 273
Fourth night = 00001111 = 4,369
Fifth night = 00011111 = 69,905
Sixth night = 00111111 = 1,118,481
Seventh night = 01111111 = 17,895,697
Eighth night = 11111111 = 286,331,153

Is this of any use? Some suggestions:

1. A secret code to identify each day of Hanukkah with a number. When greeting someone on the second day of Hanukkah, you might say “Happy 17”. Please be sure to explain the system behind your greeting, lest it is thought you are experiencing a psychological break or are high (assuming you are not).

2. Gematria is a system that assigns numbers to each Hebrew letter in a word, and then calculates a value for each word, which value is then associated with other words of the same value. You can look online to find the gematria associations for each of the above values. In addition to gematria, there are countless systems that assign values to letters and meaning to numbers.

For the larger numbers, you may not find an associated meaning. But you can factor the larger numbers to find smaller associated meanings. So, for example, the eighth night value of 286,331,153 factors to 17 × 257 × 65537. The smaller numbers such as 17 and 257 are widely discussed.

Chag urim sameach! (Happy Festival of Lights). And if I don’t see you, Happy 273!