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“I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.”

-Malachi Constant

“A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”

-Kurt Vonnegut, Sirens of Titan

The hero of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1959 novel, The Sirens of Titan, is named Malachi Constant, a Hebrew/English mash-up of a name which means “faithful messenger.”

Malachi has gained everything he has essentially by luck, but thinks “I guess somebody up there likes me.” He thinks he is in control of his life, and that he has a right to enjoy…

words from a Buddhist monk on forbearance

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I am currently reading the book Good Heart, Good Mind by my teacher and abbot when I was a monk, Thanissaro Bhikkhu (available free here). It’s a book of talks he gave in Brazil and France about the ten virtues, or “parami” of the Theravadin Buddhist tradition, often called the Ten Perfections (although I’m not fond of that translation). One of them, khanti, which means something like patience/endurance/forbearance has to do with the ability to tolerate physical pain and harsh words, the two things we human beings find it hardest to take. I thought this talk was so brilliant I…

Amida Buddha, Tokyo National Museum

Recently, at times it would be good medicine, I’ve begun to sometimes chant the Nembutsu, a kind of mantra associated with Jodo Shu, a Japanese form of Pure Land Buddhism usually considered a form of devotional “folk Buddhism.” Sometimes I’ll chant it out loud, sometimes internally.

Why would I do that? What is the Nembutsu?

Pure Land

In the hoary days of early Indian Mahayana, mythology abounded. The goal of spiritual practice shifted from the early focus on liberation here and now towards the amassing of virtues towards becoming a Buddha, which was now conceived as an immortal, magical being…

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Well, it’s been quite the couple of weeks on social media. There has been a lot that has been positive amongst the pain: I have made friends from far and wide — Jews who I found being courageous enough to criticize their own community and stand up for the rights of the other, even at personal cost.

I also became familiar with the work of many excellent Palestinian journalists and activists I didn’t know about before, and felt privileged to amplify their voices (and felt my privilege in being able to decide this comfortably from my armchair). …

Was there ever a time this essay didn’t exist?

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Is the past still present? In memory, yes, at least to some extent (possibly a very small one), but beyond that, does it still literally exist? Most people would say no. Even in spiritual circles it is common to hear that only the present exists and the past and future are mere ideas.

Yet according to the late contemporary Italian philosopher Emanuele Severino this is a mistake: the past and future are just as real as the present, and eternally so. Severino, little known in North America, passed away on Jan…

An important Zionist politician recently tried to leave the Jewish people to protest Israeli policies. I’m sympathetic, but here’s why I won’t follow suit.

A Jewish Anarchist flag

Avrum Burg a “scion of the Zionist aristocracy” recently announced that he no longer wanted to be a member of the Jewish community. I can sympathize. Reading the recent news out of Israel it is easy to think, “Why would I want to be any part of this?”

The current reality seems to contradict everything I was raised to value in Judaism. I was raised to value anti-racism, justice, compassion, sensitivity to the other, a belief…

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A 17 year old Climate activist recently told me I should stop saying “climate change” and start saying “climate crisis”, and she’s right. By this point, we all know the statistics, and some of us are tracking how much worse they get every week. Do the Stoics have anything to say to help steel ourselves in the face of our apocalyptic century?

Stoics are rightfully viewed as the Graeco-Roman technologists of the self par excellence. It is less well known that they were keen students of the natural world and lovers of science. If the ancient Stoics were faced with…

One of the most important discoveries of the last couple of centuries- or perhaps better to say “scientific confirmations” is the theory of atoms. This was suspected for a long time- both India and Greece had ancient theories that everything was actually made of gazillions of little identical parts- but only in the 20th century was overwhelming evidence for the model found.

Scientists created mathematical equations that predicted how different things would take place if everything was made of atoms (or more specifically molecules made of dynamic atomic arrangements). …

I went for a walk this morning to get a cup of coffee from a local hipster hole-in-the-wall. It’s sandwiched between a Christian thrift store and the currently comatose BC Gnostic Society, which has closed for the pandemic.

As I walked I saw a flock of city birds — I which I knew what kind — circling a street corner. The birds were flying in a magnificent harmony, that hypnotizing dance on the edge of chaos where a flock flows and shifts like a fractal pattern in the air, no birds colliding. The avian collective seems, at moments like that…

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Such wakeful thinking might finally endure, rather than close down, the perilous openness of wonder.

-Mary-Jane Rubenstein; Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and The Opening of Awe¹

For most of my adult life I have been a proponent of thoughtful, traditional Dharma. By “dharma” I mean the matrix of Buddhist teachings/practices passed down for the last 2500 years or so. Yet now, in my old age (wink wink), I find myself embracing a bogeyman of my youth: secular dharma. Whatever its shortcomings as a term, “secular dharma” has been growing more popular lately as a way of relating to…

Matthew Gindin

Trying to be both civic and civil. Freelancer available for hire.

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