Wednesday, December 17, 2014

i and jesus. the story of a between

"in the name of the no-name, the god of isra-el. to my right is micha-el and to my left is gavri-el. in front of me is uri-el and behind me is rapha-el. and above my head, above me, is the schechina-el" - "angel song" traditional jewish folkloric song.

"spirit keeper of the east...spirit keeper of the west...spirit keeper of the north...spirit keeper of the south... mother earth, thank you for your beauty, and for all you have given me. remind me never to take from you more then i need, and remind me to always give back more than i take." - akta lakota prayer "four directions prayer"

all my life i have sought to discover my own sense of jesus. but in most essential ways, i found it futile to look for him in the sacred traditions. most importantly, and clearly more intimately, i have traveled great spiritual distances hoping to meet jesus within the poetries of despair and redemption. perhaps, in other words, i wanted to find the jesus that embodied the history of the suffering and the messianic dreams of my people. the deeper judaic meaning of the story of jesus is the understanding that suffering is always personal, but salvation is collective. each of us must suffer our own sufferings, but none of us will enter salvation until all of us do. it is on this fundamental point that the jewish jesus and the non-jewish jesus parted ways. the jesus of the gospels, in many respects, narrates a story that is similar to that of some other regional myths, but this one story was transformed into a jewish myth, that is to say, the life of jesus became a message of ethics and salvation. as such, the jesus on the cross represents one of the narratives of the story of his people, both of its tragedy and of its splendor. and sadly, also, of so many other peoples of this earth. 

this is the season of the birth of the son of man. how wonderful. and i am one who hears the question: was jesus real? this i say: i know jesus was real because i know i am. how do i know i am? because i was allowed to enter into love. and it was for love that jesus wished not to die before he had a chance to make wine for the lovers. 

this jesus of the malbec, and the love on the mount, and the cry on the cross was true from the moment he first nursed from maria's breast. 

another question i hear it asked: what, after all, it means to be real? we are all real. i know this: reality is that which we make between i and thou. outside of the between of i and thou there is mara to the east and to the west, and the evil-one on the north and on the south. and so i challenge you: find this to be not real. 

and i also hear the question: was jesus the son of the god, and the god in the flesh of man? isay: for christ's sake! what a foolish question! of course he was! who, i ask, isn't?

i was asked: did jesus die on the cross? well, a son of man dies. but he loved more than many, and for that, i'm told, he now sits at the right hand of the father, and at the left hand of the mother. but i don't really think so. jesus was too much of a rebel to just sit and wait.

i ask: was he a human being? of course he was! what else should the son of maria want to be? or anyone? what else is a grace like this? what else is this love? to be human is all the gods have ever asked for. 

but was he a rebel rabbi? the best ever! and though i do not follow teachers, i do follow him, even as he walks on water and i drown.

i remember being asked: was jesus a prophet? of course he was! he stood in the between of every embrace. and that is what true poets do. for prophets are saints gone poet. 

but this is important, for i am asked: was jesus the messiah? and i cry these words: jesus, jesus, why have you forsaken me? he accepted upon himself to be a christ. and i didn't want that. he chose to be that which i know i am not brave enough, nor able enough, nor loving enough to accept upon myself. and that despite the song of the good rabbi nachman who used to tweak people's noses to remind them to never be afraid. in reality, he never actually did tweak people's noses, but he does mine, and i can't breathe.  

jesus wanted to save us. he wanted to be our messiah. i told jesus: you must stop, there is no messiah to meet on the road. please ask me to save you, i said, and i will let you save me. and we both laughed.

jesus should have never died for us because each of us must live for one another and each of us must die our own deaths. perhaps similarly, but in different words, the good buddha siddhartha said it himself before he died: work diligently towards your own salvations. but jesus died so i wouldn't have to, and in that he did forsake me.

i told jesus what the poet martin buber once said about him: "i pray with jesus, not to jesus". he smiled. i want to say: i believe with jesus, not in jesus. like him, i too miss my father. like him, i too need maria from the sea of galilee to open the cave, and to not find me inside.

i told him again: i love with you and i love you. i celebrate your birth and i mourn your death, and i am one who stood by and did nothing to protect you. i asked him this: what was it jesus that you had wanted me to do for you on your cross? 

i sat, and in sadness and one day i watched you become a messiah and forsake me. and maria from the sea of galilee, where you used to walk on its waters, came to tend to your body in the cave but you weren't there. jesus: what will you say to her?

i ask: why am i making the death of the son of man all about the life of one who merely meditates about death? for i am one who doesn't dare look at the eyes of the one who made poetry of both life and death. no, my jesus did not die for me, no one can. no one can live my life and no one can die my death. no one can save me except for you who opens the cave and finds me not inside.

the cross sometimes looks like a fig tree fools confuse with a boddhi tree. but i, who merely looks and meditates, knows there is no difference. this i know well: if i wish to follow him who bled in the mount of the city of peace crying for his father's love, the prophetic community is the body of the jesus. the call moses issued to us in the desert in the name of his god of the desert was to follow him to a land of promise to build together a new community of sons of women and daughters of men. right here on earth and right now in the present times. 

this is what moses taught jesus and us: sometimes, in the name of love, we must leave and go to the desert. and when we do, we go there with the people. we go with the slaves and with the free, with the good ones and with the bad ones, with the healthy and the ill, the happy and the lonely, the lover and the indifferent. jesus was there too, with the rest of us. we never go alone anywhere, for that lowly one whom we have left behind is the one who holds the keys to the kingdom of heaven. maria from the sea of galilee said to me: the one we do not bring down from his cross, will make us all carry it with him. indeed. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Saving the Martin Buber Institute. Our Fundraising Appeal

Dear Friends.

Re: Saving the Martin Buber Institute! 

Please read the appeal below and claim for yourself a copy of my signed and personally dedicated monograph with selected 7 essays and poems written by me since 2009. All for just a small donation of $18 via PayPal at or via check made to the order of the The Martin Buber Institute. Thank you! Our work must not stop nor our voice be silenced!
Saving the Martin Buber Institute!

For many years I've been publishing on my blog and posting on facebook many of my selected writings. I've always done so completely for free. I believe that's how it should be: a dialogue of ideas and poetry should be free and welcoming. However, sadly, during the last Summer, The Martin Buber Institute fell victim to a deliberate act of fraud, and now we must quickly recover and continue our work.

As the founder and director of The Martin Buber Institute, I am asking for your urgent help. We have recently been victimized by an act of fraud, and now we urgently need your financial support. In gratitude for a suggested donation of only $18.00, I will send you by mail a hand-signed and personally dedicated pre-publication monograph of my best selected 7 poems and 7 essays.

To receive my writings anywhere in the world, please send us a check payable to "The Martin Buber Institute for Dialogical Ecology", or via PayPal at The postal address is: MBIDE. 711 Prospect ave. Mamaroneck, NY 10543. USA.

I hope you will support us with your pledge. And if you feel it appropriate, please share this announcement. A more complete description of our campaign and the reasons behind it can be found below.

Our work must not stop, nor our voice be silenced. I warmly thank you for your kind support.

Hune Margulies.


Explanation of our campaign:

"notes and thoughts by hune margulies based on a dialogue with the poetic philosophy of martin buber"

We are presently in the process of publishing a book on the principles of Dialogical Ecology. Dialogical Ecology is the point of confluence between the philosophy of Martin Buber and some aspects of Zen. The book includes essays, poetry and works of art by Dr. Hune Margulies, the founder of the MBIDE.

During the course of the Summer of 2014, some of our work was fraudulently misappropriated, and promised funds were not delivered. Given these circumstances we are unable at this time to complete our publishing projects and implement the subsequent series of workshops, seminars and retreats we had planned to offer.

We wish to ask for your support and in exchange for your generosity, we will send you a pre-publication monograph with Hune's best selected 7 essays and 7 poems. Hune will personally sign and dedicate each copy, and we are certain that aside from the value of the literary work itself, these pre-publication signed and dedicated copies will acquire a collectors value.

From Hune's introduction to the book:

about my poetry and philosophy.

with my writings i aim to convey a message, not a teaching. i write thoughts and i write images. can an image be written? yes. my words are generally ideas. my ideas are generally thoughts about philosophic and poetic insights. i often like to convey my verses within the narratives of a story. the story must also be visual. in writing there is an infinity of different forms and contents: there could be observations, meditations, descriptions, narratives, complex language, mixed styles, dialogues and so on. i myself write from within my own philosophical message, which, generally speaking is buberian in essence, but enriched, as it were, by my own inner-chagallist poet. perhaps expressed differently: i seek to meet the world in the between of a dialogue of i-thou. my voice is eager to see, as my eyes desire to hear. my poetry wants to write chagall in words and buber in images. and yes, i mean well, so the pretentiousness of this desire could surely be forgiven.

At this point we need to secure the necessary resources we were counting on before our project fell victim to third party fraudulent activities. At the same time, we will proceed with legal action in order to recover the work that belongs to us, and be compensated for damages.

Thank you for your support!

In exchange for your pledge of only $18.00, I will send you by mail a personally signed and dedicated monograph with my selected best 7 poems and 7 short essays. This signed and dedicated monograph will likely acquire a collector's value after the official book will be published in the near future. All funds will be applied to the work of the Martin Buber Institute for Dialogical Ecology. Our institute has recently been victimized by a fraudulent project and we are now in the process of rebuilding. Our work must not be stopped nor our message should fall silent.

Friday, December 5, 2014

on hannukah. a meditation on temples and gardens

in my memory, i see myself walking through many historic and grandiose temples i have visited during my travels. most in the lands of the peoples in the south, and many in the cities of their invaders from the north.

and on the ruins of the temples where my parents used to believe god listened to their innocent prayers.

this i know:

temples were built not for the glory of god, but for the vainglory of those who own them. yes, temples have owners. and that is not worship, it is idolatry. it was for the rulers, the paymasters, the clergy, the war-makers that gold and marble was stolen and temples were built. to give them power and the pretense of spirituality.

but the real people build temples under the moon and surrounded by trees.

the lives of all the anonymous workers, the bricklayers, the craftsman, the masons, the carpenters, the glass-stainers, the countless oppressed laborers, the slaves, the unheralded children, all of their names and dreams, all of it, remains invisibly narrated inside every stone and every colorful piece of glass.

but if with every step you take in the temple, you pause for just a moment and close your eyes, right at the place where you stand, you will see, and at that instant the nameless-ones will not be forgotten. pause to be silent, or pause to sing or dance. and the faces of all the faceless will smile at you. yes, you must pose, but not for the sake of your own peace, only as a sign of rebellion.

the temples of the rulers were built to serve as gold and marbles prisons for a captive god. a god that will remain captive for as long as it can serve their interests. but isn't that foolish? they think they can hold god inside, but it is themselves they have chained to the walls. they don't see that, and what is worse, neither do we. what fools! only rulers, paymasters and oppressors could be such fools as to imagine that the eternal-thou would ever accept the offering of human oppression.

but to be more precise, that is not what they were really thinking. the rulers built their grandiose temples to themselves, to their own false glory, and as testament to their power to rule over us. we are only allowed to see the god the rulers designed and embedded in the gold and silver of the temples, and that's very sad, as the god of the people is waiting outside, probably sitting on the steps near the gates, in rags, selling flowers, candy and little icons to the passers-by.

the rulers embedded their own messages in every little stone and piece of stained glass. they told us to come in and be inspired by the stories told in the shapes and sounds of their architectural genius. but that is not real inspiration. inspiration is poetry, and it only grows from the meeting of an i and a thou. the temples of the rulers are spaces of spiritual materialism, and we cannot invite in the one who cannot be contained within bounds of gold and marbel. 

the rulers understood this very well: they knew that these grandiose structures will help them consolidate their power over the peoples they ruled. their temples are like castles for a god who does not want to be there, for the god of the people prefers to live in the embrace of the neighbor. and yes, it is a known fact that the god of the people also enjoys the wilderness of an open mountain, and the inside of a flower in the garden, and most certainly the smells of warm breezes in the green oceans. 

all spaces are equally sacred if we only say thou to a being. we have the power to de-secrate, and we also have the power to con-sacrate. it is our will and grace. we do not make a space holy by building walls around it. not by any ritual or sacrament. we make a space holy by turning toward any being with our deeds of thou. 

yes it is foolish. the malice of the rulers, the oppressors and the paymasters was only matched by their foolishness. they believed they'd be eternalizing themselves by carving the stones with their names. the only thing that remains eternal in the stones are the blood of the laborer and the tears of the slaves. their pain cries out to us from within the stone, and it pierces every heart, even those made of stone.

the true prophet, the true servant of god, will not build a temple to separate god from its people. it will certainly not walk in, except to overturn the tables.

during those holidays centered on the temple's worship, some of us will not mourn their demise nor celebrate their restoration. we mourn the deaths and the pain and the suffering all around the destruction of the temple, and wish the temple's demise would have come not through bloodshed, but through the consensual choice of the people as a whole. but we do not wish for the restoration of the temple, of any temple. we wish for the restoration of the moments of inception in the in-between of i and thou. 

when a temple (as was the case during hannukah) becomes a site of resistance against imperialism, then the symbolic meaning of the holiday transcends its actual history. hannukah and tisha b'av ought both to be refocused to celebrate the call of a people to struggle against imperialist oppression, not to mourn a temple. but their deeper meaning gets lost, if the holiday becomes not about rebellion, but about the temple itself.  

i am not one who celebrates temples. not new ones, not old ones. but i do understand the meaning of the concept of re-building, the re-covery, the act of re-claiming a right usurped. i am one who does not celebrate temples, restored or otherwise. but to the extent that hannukah entails the story of the liberation of a people from oppression and slavery, the message of the holiday belongs to all peoples everywhere.

when we go out of the temples to meet our fellow neighbors, and we go to the mountains and rivers and forests, god sings in every breeze, and every rain is her gentle touch. as the psalmist said and knew only too well, everything manifests the grace of her who is eternally a thou. and when we hear the song, we can sing along, and that is our worship. the temple is the realm we build between you and me, and our dialogue is our prayer. you enter the temple holding the hand of your neighbor, and when you say thou, behold god turning over to respond. but remember this: the temple is not a building, it is the space between you and me.

indeed, god built his own temple and it doesn't start at any particular place nor ends anywhere. it is the earth and the air and everything in them. everyone of us and everything in nature owns the key that opens the gateless-gates to the temple of glory. it's a special kind of key, as it only opens the door, but it can never lock it. it is not only a gateless gate but also a keyless key. you enter with the heart and the body and the deed of dialogue. 

the mountains, the rivers and the forests and all it's inhabitants, sentient and insentient, each of them knows this key, except, sometimes, for us. the neighbor is the sacrament and everything that lives is one of our neighbors. but i think that in our hearts we do know this to be true. we may be afraid of speaking with our hands what we know with our hearts.

let us remember that the temples of old that we admire and feel inspired by, in all regions of the world and for all the religions of the world, were built through the labor of slaves, with funds taxed from the people, and never for the glory of god, but to record for eternity the false majesty of rulers and masters. ​often times there were political reasons of imperial and colonial domination behind the erection of temples. once in existence temples often became the centers through which the rulers insured the submission of the poor majorities of their involuntary subjects, as well as ​that of other peoples they dominated through war and conquest. we are born into given religions and we continue to be faithful for a variety of reasons. but no true reformation, if one is sought, will ever occur until we transform our social and cultural relationships with the institutions of temples and the clergies who derive their status, income, power and privilege through them. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

thoughts on love and the deed of loving

at the beginning it was the encounter, and all real life is dialogue. love, like god, like poetry, like life, is the between of an i and a thou.

the biblical narrative tells of adam and eve being expelled from the garden of eden. clearly then, the paradise we speak of is on this earth, not outside of it, and our sojourn in this paradise is during our lifetimes, not following our deaths.

our task therefore is to make life on earth our own garden of blessings. it already is, if only we'd learn the art of the embrace. it does not depend on magical trees and talking animals, it depends entirely on our ways of relationship with each other and with nature.

eternal life must be experienced at this time and in this place. we will experience eternity in the-between of the love we enact. to experience we must enact, and to enact we must desire to will.

before birth we had no place and no time. after life we will no longer have a place and a time. in other words: before birth into life, it is too early, and after life is no more, it is too late. therefore it is clear that eternity can only be now, at this fleeting and ungraspable moment in the between of an i and a thou. 


the torah says: you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. in the talmud, the famous rabbi akiva said that this was the most important principle of the entire torah. for akiva the erotic song of songs was the holiest of biblical books.

if we refer to the term "love" outside of its personal and romantic significance, we can say that in modern terms, the love of the neighbor was first formulation of what liberation theologians refer to as the"sacrament of the neighbor". this teaching clearly establishes the principle of spiritual practice on a dialogical foundation. 

however, we must be careful, because as formulated, this biblical love principle seems to present the loving of oneself as the yardstick by which one measures the content and the intensity of the love for the other. if this is the case, there ought to be an alternative to a self-referential approach to love. consider this: we could ask the neighbor how would he want to be loved by me? or how would my love for her become actual within the goings and comings of her own life? in other words, rather than looking at myself to verify the love i give, i ask my neighbor to offer me his own verification. 

but if we explore the teaching closely, we see that the biblical statement does not say "love yourself so you might love your neighbor". it says the exact opposite. the love of your neighbor comes first, because in the love of the other we actualize the love of self. in other words, the love of oneself does not precede, but follows the love for others. or in yet other words: in order to learn to love oneself one must first love others. 

to love the other as i would myself is to love the other as the other would want to be loved by me. therefore, in my deeds of love, i become open to respond to my neighbor in the terms most helpful to him. i become able to love my neighbor as myself as my loving-openness to the other is precisely the way i'd want my neighbor to love me. 

but when we look at love in the personal and romantic sense of the term, we are speaking of the most beautiful emotion of the whole-being. rabbi akiva said: "the rabbis taught: all the writings are holy, but the song of songs is the holy of holies." i believe that the song of songs, this most sensual and erotic biblical poem, is the actual literary continuation of the genesis story of adam and eve. however, at some point in religious history, this second part of the story was replaced, and the first part was given a different ending. the purpose behind this fateful biblical editing was to introduce a different theological message to the story of creation. and also because the beauty of this poem ought to be seen in itself. the poem speaks of love for its own sake. no allegories are called for. love and life for the sake of love and life. of course this is not a true exegetical statement on my part. but it is true nonetheless.

in dialogical terms we say that only through the thou i become an "i", that is, only through loving others i become able to love myself. if loving oneself is a precondition to being able to give love and to receive it, then, in a most wonderfully dialogical paradox, i must start with loving my neighbor. clearly the bible assumes that the love of oneself is an obvious fact of human nature. one loves oneself as one breathes air and one is aware of the needs of one's own body and soul. but the love of oneself will not be true love but mere egocentric satisfaction if the love is not actualized as the love for others. there is therefore no true separation between the love of oneself and the love of others. there can be no actualization of one without the other.


we are not all one. i and you are not one, and that's how we can love each other. if i love you because you and i are one, it is myself i am loving, not you. if that is the case, it is all about me, not about my love of you, and my love for you. and that is romantic narcissism, not true love. true love is always all about you. i love you not because you are me, but because you are you. i love you not because of me, but because of you. there is no other kind of love.


all life is not suffering, but all suffering in life originates in the anxiety of alienation between i and thou. we alienate ourselves from our own inner selves by separating away from the love for each other, and from the love of each other. we are not one, we are two, and if we don't love, we are not one, nor we remain as two: we cease to be.

we are not one. when you eat your bread it is not my hunger you are ending. when you heal your health it is not my wounds you are covering. when you dance in joy, it is not my body you are holding. you and i share the air we breathe, but each of us must breathe it separately, because we are two, not one. the air we breathe is not only inside of me, and not only inside of you, but always between you and me. and precisely because we are not one is that we can feel love for each other and act with compassion toward one another.

there are poor and oppressed people everywhere, and my wealth and freedom are useless to them because i am not them and they are not me. this is the difficult truth of love: if one person in this world remains poor and oppressed none of us can be said to be truly loving.

for love is loving. in other words, love is a deed. poetry is a deed, life is a deed, and god is a deed too. the beauty of these deeds is that they are deeds of the whole-being: we can only do them by being them. we love with our hearts, with our minds, with our bodies and with our presence with the other. we either are the love we love, or we are nothing at all.

it is essential to understand that love loses meaning if it is deemed to be only a phenomenon of the realms of feelings and emotions. love is a deed that applies just as equally to the realms of the social and the ecological. love is our deepest feeling and it must also be our deepest deed, for if love is made manifest only between you and me, detached from society and ecology, it ceases to be a genuine manifestation of the relationship between i and thou. love encompasses all and it needs to be made manifest in the all. love is of the whole being and it lives freely and wholly only in the realm of the whole of being. 
i must come to you to be with you. you must come to me to be with me. i must come out of myself and come to you if i want to be with you. you must come out of yourself and come to me if you want to be with me. if i stay within me, how will i ever be with you?

"it's not good for adam to be alone" said the god of genesis, and he gave eve to adam so they could be two, not one. and they became one flesh because they were two, not one. at the beginning it was the encounter between adam and eve, and to love one another other adam and eve needed to be adam and eve, not each other, and not separate from one another.

i want you to love because i love you, not because i love myself. it is because you are separate from me that i can love you, it is for the distance between us that i can touch you. it is because you have a body that is not mine that you and i make love.

if i start with "me" and from me, i will end up with "me" and for me. if i start with you and from you, i will end up with you and with me.

there is no training for love: we love and that trains us. if we know we want to love, we are already loving. if we are motivated to be compassionate, we already are. now we just need to do it. it is in the deed that our love and compassion become real and true. 
if you feel you want to love, you are loving already. only a loving heart feels it wants to love. does it make sense to say: "i want to love you but i need to love myself first?" if you want to love me, you are already loving yourself, because only love gives birth to love. nothing else does.

there is no denying that loving requires thoughtful thinking and a measure of skills. it is an art. yes, we can learn how to love better, but mostly, we will learn love by doing love. and if we fail, we will learn how not to fail next time. and if we fail next time, we will know we had wanted to love and we always will.

and yes, we will fail countless times and fear will paralyze us and tell us stories about the need for teachers and training and skills and waiting and be ready first, and more of the same. fear makes us look for help everywhere except within our own selves and in the eyes of the other. will help always be there when we need it? that i don't know. does it really matter? no it does not.

every time we fail, every instance of heartbreak, it is a deed of love that caused it. it is ok then. it is ok to love. it is ok to fail. it is not ok not to love. it is ok to love no matter what. if we are saved and redeemed it is by our deeds of love, and so, in a sense, there is no such thing as failure when it comes to love. if you loved, you are saved.

and a good teacher can sometimes help improve our skills, but teachers are irrelevant unless we come to them already ready and already loving. if you meet the teacher on the road, just keep on walking.

we need to awaken from the illusion that we can be separate. we must be together as i and a thou, precisely for you and i are not one but two. we must love, because we cannot remain separate from each other and yet hope to ever be the likeness of the source of being.


think of prayer: prayer is a deed we do. that is to say: prayer, like poetry, is not only a particularly beautiful way of arranging words and thoughts about god, or about love. it is a particularly beautiful way of arranging god and love in relation to words and thoughts. martin buber spoke of the psalm that warns of an impending "eclipse of god". this is an eclipse of our own making. pessoa the poet said: "it all amounts to the absence of a true god". gods are in abundance, but sadly, true gods are not visible. some blame the eclipse, others, like nietzche, believe in something more radical. he said: "god is dead and we have killed him". he knows better, but i mostly think that it's only an eclipse. like buber would say, just look, and you'll see a true god still shining in the embrace of the neighbor. and yet, even the poet lin-chi said that we should kill the buddha! he knows better, but i mostly think that all he wanted was to save the true buddha of the inter-being. these four thinkers spoke of four radically different understandings concerning our relationship with the source of being. but i believe they all share in common something that miguel de unamuno said about baruch spinoza: he said that some people may have a toothache or a stomachache, but "the tragic jew of amsterdam" had a godache. indeed. in other words, all the prayers we sing and all the poems we write, are more or less our desperate longing for the presence of a true beloved.  

Sunday, November 30, 2014

paradise and us

the biblical narrative tells of adam and eve being expelled from the garden of eden. clearly then, the paradise we speak of is on this earth, not outside of it, and our sojourn in this paradise is during our lifetimes, not following our deaths.

our task therefore is to make life on earth our own garden of blessings. it already is, if only we'd learn the art of the embrace. it does not depend on magical trees and talking animals, it depends entirely on our ways of relationship with each other and with nature.

eternal life must be experienced at this time and in this place. we will experience eternity in the-between of the love we enact. to experience we must enact, and to enact we must desire to will.

before birth we had no place and no time. after life we will no longer have a place and a time. in other words: before birth into life, it is too early, and after life is no more, it is too late. therefore it is clear that eternity is now, at this fleeting and ungraspable moment in the between of an i and a thou. 


but our desire to live lives of genuine spirituality will inevitably be stifled by the practices of materialist-capitalism. materialist-capitalism is incompatible with the deeper intuitions of the spiritual life. the reconstruction of the original garden requires the reversal of the original fall. the system of materialist-capitalism is the embodiment of the fall, as the practical requirements for the actualization of a life of dialogical contemplation cannot be practiced within its economic and cultural bounds. the commodification of man and nature requires the implementation of social and personal-practices contrary to the needs and requirements of a life guided by spiritual values. only within a dialogical system can the practices of genuine spirituality, or as i prefer to call it, the poetic life, be enacted as ordinary life. 

the kinds of economic relationships society establishes with the natural world, will determine the kind of human relationships that will be possible to establish within society itself. when the natural world is transacted as an "it", we, the members of society, by implication and application, become likewise transacted as "it". this is so for the structural and procedural requirements of an "it" economy, necessarily forces us to interact with one another in accordance with the values and practices of itness. since we are the ones who transact with one another for the exchange of commodities, in an it-economy we are forced to interact between ourselves in accordance to the economic rules that determine the manner by which commodities interact with one another. in other words, the type of exchange transactions we enact between us, determines the type of human interactions we must enact in society. in the exchange of commodities, we become commodities as well. we must therefore transform society from a market place for the interactions of itness, to a new community for the relationships of thouness. 

there is an inherent incompatibility between the ethical and practical values that animate the system of materialist-capitalism, and those explicitly and implicitly called for in prophetic religion. point by point, argument by argument. 

it is not true that the only manner by which we might live together and exchange goods and services in society is by assigning monetary values to objects and persons. and it is not true that spirituality must always be replaced by the institutions of religion. 

and this is the fundamental point: itification is commodification. in other words, "it" is the social and economic process by which we render other beings as commodities in the marketplace of capital interactions. to cease regarding other beings as "it", we must cease the type of relationships by which beings become commodities. in concrete and practical senses, we must cease the deeds that result in the commodification of the two dimensions of existence: time and space. this can only be accomplished through the mutual integration of two simultaneous processes: the social, economic and political transformation of society, and the transformation of human consciousness in its deeds of relationship with both self and others. itness is a mode of relationship, and it will only change if we change our modes of relationship from i-it to i-thou. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

on god, ethics and natural law

i'm at grand central station. 
coming back from wonderful friends. 
i missed my train home.
and i'm walking around the cold streets 
of midtown. 
i see the homeless people. 
i see the sadness on the faces of so many lonely people. 
and on this holiday night 
i think of pope francis words: 
"you pray for the hungry, 
then you feed them. 
that's how prayer works." 
in other words: 
we are the ones who pray.
we are the ones who answer our prayers.
and we are the ones who must write the words of our prayers. 
with the deeds of our lives.

hune margulies. (thanksgiving, 2014)

in one of plato's dialogues socrates askes euthyphro, "socrates: and what do you say of piety, euthyphro? is not piety, according to your definition, loved by all the gods? euthyphro: certainly. socrates: because it is pious or holy, or for some other reason? euthyphro: no, that is the reason. socrates: it is loved because it is holy, not holy because it is loved?" we should ask: is the "you shall not kill" commandment right and just because god said it, or god said it because "you shall not kill" is the right and just thing to do. in other words: is there a natural moral law to existence that is independent of god's will and to which god himself abides to?

bertrand russell argued that if goodness is by god's fiat, then for god there is no natural distinction between good and evil, and therefore it makes no rational sense to argue that god is good. if good and evil are objective categories, then personal opinions are of no significance. both good and evil must be discovered in nature the way we discover any other natural fact. 

but we can also look at plato's and russell's arguments from an existentialist perspective. we should begin by establishing the basic argument that a world created by a god might reasonably be assumed to have a moral code embedded within it as a natural law. this is so because an act of creation is an intentional deed. if god intended creation, god must have had be a reason for it, and if there was a reason, it is only logical to assume that the created universe, through its laws of nature, is a manifestation of god's intentionality. within this context, human behavior must also be seen as one of god's creations, and therefore, we must discover the natural laws that pertain to its functioning in the same way as we study those that pertain to the laws of all other natural sciences. 

but this is a concern only for dualistic interpretations of creation. we can consider the laws of nature not as preceding nor following god's creation, but rather, as did spinoza, regard god and the laws of nature as being one and the same. for baruch spinoza to be rational is to follow the behavioral laws of nature. to live not in accordance to the ways of nature is to live an unhappy life, for anything that is not nature is artificial and oppressive. since for spinoza, god and nature and one and the same entity, there is no true personal freedom unless we live in harmony with the ways of god. we discover the laws of god-nature through the use of reason, and it is reason that keeps our minds clear of wrong beliefs. 

spinoza's ideas are similar to the chinese concept of tao. to live in harmony and in-tune with the ways of the tao is to experience the only true human freedom. anything else is contravening our true nature, and in that sense, they cannot free us nor make us happy. peace can only be experienced within the laws of tao. but in contrast to spinoza, taoism does not ask that we learn the laws of tao by the use of reason. tao is said to be undefinable, and therefore, reason, in the spinozean sense, is of no utility. nonetheless, from an existential perspective, the principle of pursuing life in accordance to natural laws is essentially the same for both spinoza and taoism. 

extending this same existentialist analysis to the biblical narrative, we observe that the biblical god is a god that chooses to enter into covenantal agreements with human societies. the god of the bible is a covenantal god. a covenant is a relationship, and it is the kind of relationship that cannot be entered into unless there is an equality of freedom on both sides. therefore, if god ruled a moral law into nature, both he and the people must abide by it. in other words, the natural laws that pertain to physics are not negotiable, but those that pertain to human behavior are not embedded in us in such a manner as to prevent us from acting in their contravention. as the talmud says, all has been foreseen by god in advance, but nonetheless we are still free to choose. 

but if god himself embedded the natural moral laws into nature, then, from the human perspective, there is no distinction between an antecedent will of god, and the objectivity of the moral codes. to ask whether god abides by moral codes independent of his will is to disregard the fact that god's will is embedded in the laws of nature. the question then is to determine how are we to learn the will of god.  

one common theological argument is that god embedded in nature both the natural laws of morality as well as the human laws of freedom of the will. since we are free to choose, all god can do is to command his will and then negotiate for compliance. therefore the biblical god is constantly attempting to enter with us into covenants of mutually agreed upon rights and obligations. 

this brings us back to aristotle's basic question as to what is the causal relationship between understanding and compliance. the question is: how are we to know what the laws of natural morality are? and if we come to know them, how are we to ensure that those laws of morality will be followed and enacted? awareness is not necessarily followed by a desire to act. in this regards, traditional theology speaks of rewards and punishment. 

the god of the bible was clear as to the consequences to the people of not abiding by his laws. it should be clear then that a rational people would seek to obey. but in fairness to the people, are the laws of god so unambiguously spelled out so as to leave no possible interpretive doubt? those who ostensibly live by the precept of "you shall not kill", have historically killed and continue to do so to this day. we could argue that these people do not understand the laws of god, or perhaps, they choose not to follow them. but if the laws of god were clearly spelled out these kinds of ambiguities would not ensue. 

a perennial issue that tests the boundaries between ethics and societal resources is the issue of technology. in and of itself technology is morally neutral. it does not, in and of itself, cause problems. the problems of technology are caused by the social and economic system that uses science as a capital commodity. the focus therefore ought to be on social and economic transformation, not on any specific tool or instrument assessed in isolation from its overall cultural context. all technologies, from books to pianos to ships to pencils, are mediums to ends, and as such they can elevate us or degrade us, it is up to us, not them. 

it is therefore essential that we continue to insist on basic human laws of justice and righteousness, independent of any interpretation of the laws of god we choose to follow. but this is essential in my view: god never spelled out the consequences to himself should he himself not abide by the covenant. i believe that god should set up a moral example and accept the consequences of his own disobedience. has god abided by his own moral codes when he allowed the holocaust and other genocides to take place upon the face of the earth? i believe that had god shown to us the consequences to him of not abiding by our mutual covenant, this world would have long ceased to be plagued by evil, and as the prophet said, righteousness would be flowing like a mighty river. in this context, i am still waiting for the tribunal that the berditchever rebbe was going to convene to hear god's testimony on his own defense. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

five meditations on poets and dialogue

there is a famous saying by the poet lao-tzu: "if you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. if you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation." it seems to me that this wonderful insight, as stated, is only a partial truth. for the inner and the outer, the spiritual and the material, the personal and the social, are not each a discreet realm of existence ready to be activated separate and apart from one another. in the talmud it says "without bread there is no torah, and without torah there is no bread". neither precedes nor follows the other. both the word and the deed must both be present in this here and in this now. therefore, to become a complete teaching, a second half must be added to the poet's insight. this is my dialogue with the text: "if you want to awaken to all of yourself, then awaken all of humanity. if you want to eliminate suffering in yourself, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in the world. truly, the greatest gift you have to give to yourself is that of the transformation of the world." this is the dialogical perspective. we are whole-beings in a relationship with the whole-of-being. in other words: without embracing the neighbor, there is no path toward the within, and without the within, there is no path toward the embrace of the neighbor.

the poet li-po said: "the birds have vanished down the sky. now the last cloud drains away. we sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains." how i wish the poet would have asked the mountain. i hear her say "we sit together, li-po and me, until only li-po remains". but even more so I wish that their monologues would pause. the two of them, the poet and the mountain, are being silly. for here is li-po, and here's the mountain, and in the space of their between there is presence. there are no passings and no remainings, there is only our response to the meeting of the other. we all have the right to exist and the responsibility to-be, and no one, no poet and no mountain, will ever accept the vanishing of the between. 

the poet-master thich nhat hanh said: "every authentic teaching of the buddha must bear three dharma seals: impermanence, non-self, and nirvana." li-po's is the self that cannot be grasped. the self that cannot be grasped is not the real self, but only its conceptual abstraction. as all concepts are, the concept of no-self is constructed by separating the idea of self from the living self. the no-self emerges in the imagination, but the real self emerges within the inter-being of existence. the word self when isolated from living relationships denotes only an intellectual construction, and given its defined attributes, it can only be perceived as impermanent and insubstantial. but the real-self is not an entity separate and apart from the relationship with the whole of being. the conceptual self is the self that says "it" rather than "thou", and it is this i-it self that is an illusion and it cannot be grasped. but the real self is the self that says "thou" rather than "it", and it is this i-thou self that is true, and it can be grasped in the embrace of a being. in this context, nirvana is the seal of the true-self. 

the poet rumi said that we are "only breath". but we are more than this and never less than everything. we are whole-beings in relationship with the whole-of-being. but let rumi's breath become the spring breezes through which the world sings with us songs of myriad renewals. a chinese monastic once said that living in solitude prevents one from washing another person's feet. our refusal to be for-the other is our refusal to be for-the-self. the confirmation of otherness is the confirmation of selfhood. so be all moments of solitude like gates to thou-deeds of dialogue and compassion. but the key word here is "moment", for to recognize a moment as being eternal, it is not the same as to believe that the moment is everlasting. eternity does not refer to the length of time, it is a quality in time. infinity does not refer to the length of space, it is a quality in space. eternity is actualized in the manner of our relationship with time, and infinity is actualized in the manner of our relationship with space. as the poet martin buber said, "the lines of relationship between i and thou intersect in the eternal thou".

i took this photo on the banks of the amazon river. the hunting beauty of a thoughtful and gently determined girl. the sad ponderings and resignation of the father. no regrets on the man's face, as regrets are the privilege of those to whom life has given choices and opportunities. father and daughter sitting together in silence by the river. i have seen the poverty. yes, and i feel this sadness. in some years from now, this (by then) older girl, will likely be sitting where her papa is now, looking at this same river, and her own child, sitting behind her, will be looking straight, thoughtful and gently determined, at her own improbable dreams.