Sat, 25 Feb 2012
You may wonder what has taken me away from blogging. I've been spending most of my free time coding a replacement for the software that runs this website. The software is written in Perl and goes by the ungodly name CMS::Onsite::Editor. It's a project that literally been years in the making and has taken an increasing share of my time as it gets closer to completion.
Tonight I write about an idea of Rudolf Steiner that I feel could have a big impact on the world if taken seriously. Steiner was a theosophist and most of his talks are in that vein. But there are little nuggets of gold strewn throughout his talks, if you take the trouble to look for them. He said that when we engage in the economic proccess as consumers we are acting selfishly. But when we engage in the economic process as producers we are acting altruisticly. Note that he is not saying how people should behave in their business, he is saying how people do behave in their business. I think this is an important and neglected truth. If you try to run your business selfishly and motivate your workers through selfish means, your business will be less successful than if you inspire yor workers through a common shared purpose. That may sound idealistic, but there is research to support it. Workers do a worse job when their pay is explicitly tied to their performance. The idea has an important implication for how corporations should be organized: the managers who run a company should have no financial interest in it and their compensation should not be tied to the financial performance of the company. In other words, there should be a separation of the ownership and management of business. That certainly is against current wisdom on how to run corporations. But the pas generation has scarcely been an example of good corpoorate governance.
It can be compared to the practice of meditation. In meditation you sit a person in a quiet room fre of distractions with nothing to do. In other words, you cut off te avenues most of us spend our time engaged in: passion, aggression and distraction. And when these are cut off, something new and unexpected has a chance to flourish. The same is true in business. If the CEO is no longer concerned with next quarter's profits, what is going to happen? Once the idea of corporations as engines of profit is dropped, something new is going to emerge. On Twitter Nella Lou replied to the statement, "money and corporations as vehicles for changing the world in positive ways" with "like that's really going to happen." But it's either that or nothing. The current profit obsessed corporation is not going to change the world in a positive way. But if corporate governance is reformed in the way described here, the force of altruism which is at the root of all productive activity can be unleashed and the world will be changed.
Sun, 20 Jan 2008
The Dalai Lama made a few remarks on economic justice, recently, reiterating that he favors Marxism over Capitalism.
At a gathering at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), he said: "I am a Marxist monk, a Buddhist Marxist. I belong to the Marxist camp, because unlike capitalism, Marxism is more ethical. Marxism, as an ideology, takes care of the welfare of its employees and believes in distribution of wealth among the people of the state."
I thought I'd use the Dalai Lama's remarks as a peg to hang my own ideas on. Usually the discussion of economics wanders between the two poles of individual liberty and government control, either in the form of regulation or outright ownership. My own idea is different. Briefly stated, I believe all publicly traded corporations should be run by people having no economic stake in the company. In other words, the management of the company would be forbidden to own any stock in the company, own any bonds issued by the company, or have any economic relation to the company at all besides drawing a salary. The salary, of course, could not be tied to the company's economic performance. Any economic stake would be viewed as a conflict of interest and be grounds for dismissal.
The reason for this change is to unleash the forces of altruism that are naturally present in everyone, though usually hidden under self-seeking and greed. If you are running a company and can do anything, absolutely anything with it and no course of action will benefit you more than another, what happens next? In a way, it's similar to meditation. You sit down, physically constrained from doing your usual stuff. So what happens then? The problem with conventional approaches to economic justice is that corporations, as the most interested parties, inevitably end up gaining control of the regulatory apparatus that is meant to constrain them. So well meaning efforts to control the worst excesses of capitalism either come to nothing or actually make the problem worse.
The obvious objection to my idea is that whoever runs the company might simply waste its resources on crazy idea. However, the company must still raise capital by borrowing or selling stock, and the financial markets would act as a brake on any sort of craziness. As another check on uneconomic behavior, I would create a tax on all capital property which was equal to the real return on a safe investment, such as treasury bonds. This would be approximately two percent. Any company not earning this rate of return would be forced to liquidate itself, selling off its assets to economically healthy companies, ensuring that capital did not stagnate in unprofitable uses.
The idea here is that people are basically good, but are corrupted by a system that only rewards greed. This system distorts human nature, but if the rules of the game are changed, the altruism naturally present in people will flower. And this solution is decentralized, it doesn't require one central authority making the decision on what is right. Instead thousands of people each make individual decisions about what to do. So the barrier to new ideas is lower and the system is resistant to corruption. There has to be an educational aspect to the solution as well, because people have been brainwashed with the idea that "greed is good" and need to understand that running a company is a grant of trust from the public.
That's a general outline of how I think economics needs to be reformed. I could say more about the details, but this will do for now.
Wed, 21 Nov 2007
Here's a nice essay by a Christian doctor asking why American Christians have so readily sanctioned war.
The purpose of this essay is to stimulate open and honest discussion (at least among the followers of Jesus) about the ethics of killing by and for one's government, not from the perspective of national security ethics, not from the perspective of the military, not from the perspective of (the pre-Christian) eye-for-an-eye retaliation that Jesus rejected, but from the perspective of the Sermon on the Mount, the core ethical teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.
Out of that discussion (if any are willing to engage in it) should come answers to those horrible realities that seem to immobilize decent Bible-believing Christians everywhere: Why are some of us Christians so willing to commit (or support and/or pay for others to commit) homicidal violence against other fellow children of a loving, merciful, forgiving God, the God whom Jesus clearly calls us to imitate? And what can we Christians do, starting now, to prevent the next war and the next epidemic of combat-induced posttraumatic stress disorder?
Sat, 14 Jul 2007
Friday the Nechung oracle visited the Ja Ling center in Baltimore and gave a talk on the history and significance of the oracle. I've put my notes below, so it's a pretty long post. Afterwards he gave a Vajrakilaya empowerment and then we celebrated his fiftieth birthday with cake. So here is his talk.
I want to give a short explanation about the Nechung oracle. The teachings of Buddhism in Tibet were established 1300 years ago. They were of the Mahayana school, which included Tantra. All three schools of Buddhism were included in this transmission: the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. The first monastery, Samye, was built at the time of King Trisong Detsen. During the construction of this temple, an invitation was made to Shantarakshita to come from India, but they found there were many obstacles to its construction. So Shantarakshita suggested inviting Padmasambhava to Tibet. Due to Padmasambhava's great powers and clairvoyance, he was able to bind the local spirits to the dharma or banish them. So that is how the dharma was established in the early days.
Those of you who have visited Samye will know that the main temple has three stories, each with special features. Samye was built according to the plan of a mandala, with four gates, 108 stupas and a protective fence. Having completed the construction of Samye, Trisong Detsen and Padmasambhava felt there was a need for a protector for all of Tibet. They chose Pehar, who is the same as the same as the Nechung deity. The son of the king went to a place now part of Mongolia to invoke him and escort him back to Tibet. They took back an item linked to his life force, which brought him back to Tibet. At the northern gate of Samye a shrine was established for Pehar.
Samye was the first monastery in Tibet and no other monasteries had been built at that time. Near where the Drepung monastery was going to be built there was a sacred tree surrounded by springs. Vairochana had visited this place and had visions of the future. He saw that Samye was going to be the greater abode of the protector but that that spot was going to be a smaller abode. So the name Nechung, which means just that, was established in that way. The founder of Drepung was a disciple of Je Tsongkhapa. He had a very auspicious dream after he had aspired to build the monastery. The protector appeared to him in a dream and said if you build it, I will offer five thousand monks. In Drepung there were four monastic colleges. The founder of one of these colleges also founded Nechung monastery. A lama sent a box down the river that passes by Lhasa with items sacred to Pehar. It passed by the spot were the Nechung monastery was going to be to be built. The monk who was going to build it saw the box through his clairvoyance and told his attendant to go down the next morning to retrieve it. The attendant waited by the river for it a long time, then saw the box floating down the river and retrieved it. While carrying it back, he sat down beneath the tree to rest. When he went to lift up the box again, he found that he couldn't lift it. He was curious why, so he lifted the lid and a dove flew out and merged with the tree. So that formed the auspicious connection for building the Nechung monastery there. As the attendant walked uphill he saw his teacher waiting, as if to receive a guest. His teacher asked if there had been any problem, and the attendant told him what had happened when he lifted the lid. So the monk said it would have been more auspicious if you could have brought it all the way up the hill, but because of the incident that the monastery would be built at the tree, but it would be small. Eight monks were sent there to establish the Nechung monastery. This happened about 800 years ago.
The first Dalai Lama came from Nechung monastery. This was before the lineage was established, so he was not known as the Dalai Lama. After the second Dalai Lama passed away, he considered that he might not be reborn in Tibet. But Padmasambhava spoke to him while he dwelt in the Pure Land and told him he was the incarnation of Avalokiteshvara and the protector of Tibet, so it was important that he be reborn. Padmasambhava said that he would send two protectors with the Dalai Lama, the red and the black protectors. It was during the lifetime of the third Dalai Lama that the institution of the Nechung oracle was established. He was known as the Drepung Nechung guardian of the dharma. The fourth Dalai lama was born in Mongolia and the great fifth Dalai Lama established the government of central Tibet. The name of the central government was taken from the name of the Dalai Lama's college in Drepung. During the time of the great fifth Dalai Lama Mongolia was a powerful country and had conquered China. They had great faith in the Dalai Lama and the king had a teacher-disciple relationship with him. Although China now claims Tibet is a part of China we can see that in the past Tibet had given much of its culture to China. One thing the great fifth Dalai Lama did was to stop the Mongolians from killing Chinese men when they became twenty years old. I am explaining this so you understand the relation between Tibet, Mongolia, and China. But this is not part of Nechung's history. Songsten Gampo, a Tibetan king married a Chinese princess. This would not have happened if Tibet was not then a powerful country.
The Potala was built by a minister of the fifth Dalai Lama and the Nechung monastery was built at the same time. The Nechung oracle was made the chief state oracle at that time. The number of monks at the Nechung was set to be one hundred and one and they received a stipend from the Tibetan government. The liturgy and practices of the monastery was also established at that time. So from the time of the Fifth up to the Fourteenth there has been an official relationship between Nechung and the Dalai Lama. In the past Drepung had the tradition of the oracle going into a trance on the second day of each lunar month. The monks here at Ja Ling are from Drepung and Sera, so they must know this history very well. After 1959, having gone into exile, the Nechung monastery was rebuilt in Northern India and Drepung was rebuilt in Southern India, so there is a big distance between them. Still, the ritual prayers to the protector are performed in Drepung every month. Every year the great prayer festival is held led by the monks at Drepung and presided over by the Dalai Lama. So the monks of both monasteries meet at that time. So that is a brief explanation of the history of Nechung.
Now I would like to give a brief explanation of how the oracle performs his activities. Padmasambhava made the local spirits of Tibet guardians of the dharma. We still rely on the greater protectors that he bound to oath . Some of these protectors have oracles through which they communicate. One type is passed down through a family line, from father to son or mother to daughter. The second type of oracle is someone chosen by a lama as having special qualities. They go into retreat to learn how to channel the protector. But the Nechung oracle is of neither of these types. The Nechung oracle is chosen by the Nechung deity. There is a first spontaneous trance where the deity takes possession of the monk. The monk is tested and if he passes the test, he is accepted as the oracle. I am seventeenth in the line of oracles, but I am only the second one to also be a Nechung monk. Once the Nechung oracle is recognized, he is given given a deputy minister's position in the Tibetan government. Back in Tibet he was also given the title of Da Lama, which is a Mongolian term. The other position the Nechung oracle holds is of abbot of the Nechung monastery.
I became a monk of Nechung monastery in the early Seventies after escaping from Tibet. When I entered the Nechung monastery I was an ordinary monk. A monk in the monastery may choose to chant the rituals or become a ritual assistant and make the tormas and mandalas. I became a ritual assistant. If one becomes skilled at this, one is made the ritual master. The previous oracle had died in 1984. There were three years when there was no Oracle. The Dalai Lama wrote a prayer for his swift return and the monks at the different monasteries were asked to chant it. The activities of Nechung monastery still went on as before. I held the position of ritual master at the time. As ritual master I had been present at the trance of the previous oracle. The Dalai Lama was teaching on the Lamrim Chenmo at Nechung and the Drepung monks were also attending. It was during one of the regular prayers to the oracles that I was possessed. I felt like I had been struck by lightning. The news spread and I was called up before the Dalai Lama who questioned me about it and about my dreams. He told me there was a good possibility I would be the next oracle and in order to see if this were so, I should go into a retreat. Two lamas, one Gelug and one Nyingma, were asked to check on me while I was in retreat. Two other people from Tibet had showed signs of being the oracle by going into trance. But after several months it was decided that I was the new oracle. There is only ever one Nechung oracle. So that is a brief account of how I became the Nechung oracle. So I will take a few brief questions and then give a blessing of Vajrakilaya.
Q: How long were you in retreat?
A: Less than a year, passed between when I was first possessed and when I was recognized as the oracle. I was only in retreat in two months. But each year I go into retreat during the winter and summer.
Q: What can we do to help you build the Deyang monastery?
A: Even though some colleges of Drepung were reestablished, Deyang was not. I took the responsibility of doing this because the founder of that college also founded Nechung and I wished to repay this act. The curriculum of this college is closely tied to the fifth Dalai Lama and I felt the responsibility to reestablish it before it is lost.
Q: What do you experience when you are in the trance?
A: Before the trance I am anxious. I get the message from the Dalai Lama to go into trance several days ahead of time. Most of the time I do the ritual at about 7:30 in the morning. I change my dress into the traditional costume, which includes a heavy hat. There are usually several hundred people in attendance. The trance lasts between ten minutes and an hour, but I am unconscious during it. Afterwards I feel tired and my heart is beating fast. After a half an hour I return to normal and I am happy.
Q: Does someone write down what you say during the trance?
A: Yes, and today they record it as well.
Q: What is the most profound thing you have said during a trance?
A: It's not the most profound, but usually the remarks are about his Holiness's well being and how to overcome obstacles to his health or to the well being of the monasteries.
Q: How often are the trances?
A: There's no set number of trances. There are set times for trances, the tenth day of the first month for His Holiness and the government, the fifteenth day of the fifth month for Namgyal monastery and the tenth day of the fourth month for the Nechung monastery. There are also times a trance is performed when other monastic institutions request it or when a large group of Tibetans request it. I do not make the decision, it is made by His Holiness's private office and they send the request to me. Once the date for the trance is set, local people can attend and get a blessing afterwards.
Q: What language does the deity speak in?
A: An old dialect of Tibetan.
Thu, 12 Jul 2007
At the beginning of every day's business the Senate has a minster offer a short prayer. Today, for the first time, it was offered by a Hindu. Three Christians in the visitor's gallery disrupted the prayer by shouting out:
"Lord Jesus, forgive us father for allowing a prayer of the wicked, which is an abomination in your sight. This is an abomination. We shall have no other gods before You."
They were escorted out by the Capitol police. Reverend Benham, the minister who organized the protest had this to say:
"When you stand up and are arrested, and the Hindu is allowed to go free, this country has gone upside-down."
It looks like respect for religion is a one way street in some peoples' minds. It's okay for a Christian to offer a prayer at a public, but a Hindu offering a prayer is something to be arrested for. It seems like some people really don't believe in freedom of religion or treating others fairly.
Fri, 01 Dec 2006
Evan ate for a month spending less than a dollar a day. During that time he dropped eighteen pounds and ate a lot of bland, starchy food.
I don't even feel like I'm eating less anymore. In fact, for the past few days I've felt like I'm over eating. I pretty much force myself to eat more because I get scared when I do the math on the amount of calories I've consumed that day and find them to be dangerously low. I've said it before, but it's amazing to me that in such a short amount of time my body has completely adjusted to this way of life. I'm consuming less than half the amount of food I used to and I don't even notice it.
If it were me, I'd buy a big bag of rice, a big bag of lentils, kale or other cheap greens and eat like a champ. A bored champ on a bland, monotonous, but nutritious diet.
Sun, 05 Nov 2006
So it looks like America woke up and has realized that invading Iraq is a bad idea. It looks like the authors of the invasion are repudiating their own handiwork and the Republicans will pay for their folly at the polls. So it looks like the fight is over and the good guys will win, right? I think not. During the Vietnam War the worst days cam after everyone realized that the war was a mistake and we needed to get out -- from 1968 onwards. After that we had the convention in Chicago, the Cambodian invasion and its response and the mass demonstartions in Washington. So don't expext change to come quickly or easily after election day. Expect strife, recrimination, and probably violence ahead. So fasten your seat belts. You haven't seen anything yet.
Wed, 16 Aug 2006
It looks like the scare over the London bombers is another hoax, or at least overblown.
Arrests were made at night, catching the culprits at home. Houses have been raided, and are being searched. So far as we know at this point, no bombs have been found. No chemicals. No equipment. No labs. No testing ground. Now, in order to get on an airplane, even the most devout suicide terrorist needs a ticket, and these generally must be purchased with money. Apparently, not one ticket had been purchased by the detainees. Further, to get on an international flight from Britain to the United States, in these days of the modern nation-state, you need something else. It's a document called a passport. Apparently, some of the detainees don't have them.
The liquids that the supposed bombers were going to mix to make a bomb are acetone and hydrogen peroxide. Here are the instructions on making the explosive. You tell me how likely terrorists are to follow this procedure unobserved in the cabin of a plane.
To a 500-mL beaker add 50 mL of acetone, then stir in 30 mL of 30% hydrogen peroxide. Place the beaker in a salt-ice bath and cool it to 5 C. After cooling, slowly add 3 mL of 75% sulfuric acid drop by drop with an eye dropper. Stir the mixture continuously while adding the acid, keep the temperature between 5 C to 10 C, stop adding acid if the temperature gets to high. It is very important that you moderate the reaction, high temperatures will lower your yield and cause the formation of the less useful dicyclo isomer. After adding all the acid, continue stirring for 5 minutes. Keep the mixture in the bath for 1 to 3 hours, or even up to 24 hours.
It looks like airline passengers everywhere are going to be inconvenienced indefinitely as a result of an overblown "threat" that was splashed across the media to give a short term boost to President Bush's political fortunes.
Sat, 18 Feb 2006
I don't often comment on politics on this weblog, but this just struck me as creepy. Cheney's victim in the hunting accident issued an apology to the Vice President. A generous person would say it was just an accident and no hard feelings. But apologize to the person who shot you? Creepy. This administration reminds me more and more of Romania's ex-dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu.
Harry Whittington was all grace Friday as he described himself a lucky person and issued a sincere apology to the man who accidentally shot him -- Vice President Dick Cheney. "My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this past week," Whittington said.
Sat, 04 Feb 2006
Hey! This news article is hitting a little close to home. Either this guy is a die hard believer in steady state cosmology or he doesn't want to offend anyone believing the Earth was created in seven literal days. If the latter, it looks like evolution is just an appetizer before the main course. Pretty soon the science textbooks will be telling us how Joshua stopped the Sun and how all this stuff about the Earth going around the Sun is just a "theory."
In October George Deutsch, a presidential appointee in NASA headquarters, told a Web designer working for the agency to add the word "theory" after every mention of the Big Bang, according to an e-mail message from Mr. Deutsch that another NASA employee forwarded to The Times.
Sun, 23 Oct 2005
Mongolia is in the news because of Secretary Rumsfeld's recent visit. You may be surprised to learn that one of the television stations in Mongolia, Eagle TV, is American owned and run by a Christian group. (Surprised because Mongolia is a mostly Buddhist country.) The owner of the station has a weblog with some interesting articles.
Sun, 02 Oct 2005
Back at the start of the Twentienth Century British socialists set up socialist Sunday schools in imitation of the Christain model. Not only did they have Sunday schools, they came up with their own ten commandments. Actually, they're not that bad.
- Love your schoolfellows, who will be your fellow workmen in life.
- Love learning, which is the food of the mind; be as grateful to your teacher as to your parents.
- Make every day holy by good and useful deeds and kindly actions.
- Honour good men, be courteous to all men, bow down to none.
- Do not hate or speak evil of anyone. Do not be revengeful but stand up for your right and resist oppression.
- Do not be cowardly. Be a friend to the weak and love justice.
- Remember that all good things of the earth are produced by labour. Whoever enjoys them without working for them is stealing the bread of the workers.
- Observe and think in order to discover the truth. Do not believe what is contrary to reason and never deceive yourself or others.
- Do not think that he who loves his own country must hate and despise other nations, or wish for war, which is a remnant of barbarism.
- Look forward to the day when all men and women will be free citizens of one fatherland and live together as brothers and sisters in peace and righteousness.
Operation Eden has some really powerful photographs of the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.
Fri, 30 Sep 2005
A volunteer in the relief effort for Hurricane Katrina talks about how racism hampered the relief effort.
Mazer saw racist behavior that was not usually as blatant as that of the manager of the Best Western, but that was disturbing nonetheless. What got to him most was the shouting. Local officials and law enforcement officers regularly shouted and screamed at the evacuees.
"I saw people in authority yelling at evacuees in public settings, the condescension. I was told by numerous police and sheriffs that 'These people don't take care of themselves, they don't respect each other, they are crack addicts, dope addicts.'
Tue, 20 Sep 2005
The railway connecting Lhasa, Tibet with China will soon be completed. The railway has been praised as a feat of engineering and condemned as endangering what is left of Tibetan culture. Guardian reporter Jonathan Watts rides the nearly completed Tibetan rail line and reports on its significance.
They said it was impossible to build a railway to Tibet. There were 5,000m-high mountains to climb, 12km-wide valleys to bridge, hundreds of kilometres of ice and slush that could never support tracks and trains. How could anyone tunnel through rock at -30C, or lay rails when the least exertion sends you reaching for the oxygen bottle? But that's the sort of challenge today's China relishes. Next month, three years ahead of schedule, more than 1,000km of fresh track will link the garrison town of Golmud in China's 'wild west' and the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, strengthening the regime's grip on this troublesome corner of the empire and confirming its status as a technological superpower.
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