Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Girl Who Claims to Not Like My Novels: Love and Redemption at the Cincinnati Zoo


Recently a girl visited me from Seattle. She happens to be the only girl I ever loved. If you click on the "love" category on this blog, every single entry is about her. A girl I knew for five years and with whom I thus far utterly failed to establish a normal, romantic relationship.

Instead -in spite of my redundant proclamations of love- she never really gave me a chance to be anything else than some strange, very intimate and pathetic male friend. Too intimate for a friendship and too distant for a relationship. Frozen somewhere in a cocoon between a caterpillar and a butterfly.

We would talk, then fight, then not talk again for months or even years. Then I would write her again and she'd reply that she was thinking of me. I'd say I knew she didn't love me. She'd say, "maybe someday."

If this sounds sadomasochistic on my part, then fuck you. Love is beyond receiving things like sex or consistent affection. Love in its purest form is seeing someone in their full humanity and wishing them to be happy regardless of what the cost/benefit ratio has to say about your needs. And this girl gave me the chance to feel that; and though I was often times borderline suicidal as I felt this, I am still eternally grateful to her for the experience.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger... or cripples you for life. But I don't feel dead or crippled. I feel alive. And maybe my own self-hating hand did come dangerously close to my throat on a couple of occasions, but the hell with it! That's my own fault anyway and I don't really regret it. Some people jump from planes to get their thrills while all I needed for similarly threatening experience is to send her a text and not receive a reply for days or weeks. Its funny to even write this because is so true and absurd.

But no matter how enlightening beating your head against the wall can feel over the years, at some point the activity has to stop. Even for this deranged Russian.

I still think she feels something for me resembling love but its up to her to express it (if there's anything to express). I did all I could.

I even took her to the Cincinnati Zoo.

...where I saw a Greek Orthodox priest said "Hello!" and we got into a long discussion about the monastic traditions in Tibetan Buddhism and Orthodox Christianity.

All the while I was under the effects of marijuana-laced chocolates that she shared with me (and brought in carry on luggage on the plane). She was fiddling with her broken sunglasses while the father told me how Tsar Peter the Great's reforms undermined the purity of Russian Orthodoxy. He sighed loudly when I informed him that I am a Buddhist now and advised me to read about the desert fathers.

With experiences like that, I don't see how she could pass me up!

I love her still, and don't harbor any real negative thoughts about her. I've done all I could to have a real connection. I also can't be the fall guy for her indecision about her feelings for me. Its not that I hate that indecision or feel like I am entitled to something from her, I honestly just can't handle it.

I'm eternally gratefully to her for the gift of love, even if it was just crazy love that came from my side only. I still couldn't have felt it without knowing her.

My heart is always open to her, it always has been, and that -forgive my Russian sentimentality- is the purest thing I can offer as a human, there is nothing to subtract or add to my open heart. The choice is hers.

The Russian Folly


Russia should have stopped with Crimea.

Putin's support for the rebels in eastern Ukraine could be the biggest geopolitical and moral mistake he has made in his reign.

I've made these points before so I won't belabor them again here.

Just to sum up:

When Russia annexed Crimea, it also took away a big part of the pro-Russian electorate from a closely divided country.

The rebels in the east of Ukraine presented an opportunity. By supporting them, Russia wanted Ukraine to embrace a federal constitution with a weak center. This way Russia could still maintain its influence in Ukraine through these autonomous and empowered regions in the east.

Russia miscalculated the response from Kiev. Ukrainian nationalists, already enraged by the loss of Crimea, were not about to sit behind a negotiating table with a new set of rebels in the east. So they moved to ruthlessly crush them.

After a bloody battle, they were about to capture the rebel territories, then Moscow started to provide serious military support to rebels that now appears to go beyond just intelligence and hardware and includes regular Russian forces crossing over the border.

In the end, the rebels and the massive support they got from the Kremlin did nothing for Ukraine, its eastern regions or Russia itself.

Russia is facing increasing sanctions, the rebel war caused thousands of civilian deaths, drastic population flight, and massive damage to the infrastructure of an already poor region.

In the "best case" scenario, if Russia succeeds in pushing the Ukrainian army out of these rebel held territories, the likely outcome is that these eastern "people's republics" will exist in some legal gray zone, shunned by all except Russia. In that outcome, Moscow -already suffering from increasingly heavy sanctions- will have to subsidize these poor, economically isolated regions that were ravaged by war.

Essentially, after supporting the rebels so much, Putin would lose face by seeing them defeated by Ukrainian military. The inertia of his initial political miscalculations of backing the rebels in the first place, made watching their demise unacceptable. Now Russia will sacrifice much just so the phantom people's republics in East Ukraine can preserve their "freedom."

Things are unraveling so quickly that I wonder if any of the major players here -Kiev, Moscow, rebels, America and Europe- have anything resembling a comprehensive strategy or an end-game scenario. Nobody here wants to understand the other side and instead continuously reinforce their own respective versions of reality.

This cycle of incoherent decision making is quickly spiraling out of control and turning into a geopolitical tornado. Its most immediate victims are the people of east Ukraine who face destruction of their homes and cities. In the vicinity, the whole of Ukrainian economy is taking a heavy hit. But the winds are expanding rapidly and soon Russians and Europeans will face the consequences of the sanctions regime.

If hollow political rhetoric could feed the people or fuel the economy, then all of the players involved would currently experience an unprecedented economic boom with all the condemnations and lofty sentiments flying in all directions. Unfortunately the only contact with a flying object that will be felt by all is that of particles of shit that has hit the fan.

This, my friends, is what history spinning out of control looks like. The only question now is how far the shit will fly this time around.

Ideals swirling in untamed minds, start the merciless blades of death. That is the only truth I really know about politics. I am sad about the lives lost.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Almost Like the Blues


The master is coming out with a new album, the universe is good. I prostrate myself joyfully, grateful for his kindness. What more can I say?

Popular Problems, Leonard Cohen's 13th album coming out on September 23, two days after his 80th birthday.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Book Review: "The Quest for an Ideal Youth in Putin's Russia" Volumes I and II by Ivo Mijnssen and Jussi Lassila


The Quest for an Ideal Youth in Putin's Russia

In 2004 Ukraine had a revolution. This revolution was called the "Orange Revolution." No, it was not a dietary fad that proposed that Ukrainians eat oranges to improve their cholesterol and increase their Vitamin C intake.

Rather, orange was the color of democracy and hope. You see, the outgoing the president (Leonid Kuchma) designated a successor to the Ukrainian throne. This successor was none other than Victor Yanukovich who you might -or might not- remember as the former villain of this current revolution (version 2.0) who had a fancy house near Kiev that he abandoned to take a forced vacation in Russia.

Anyway, in the sad political career of the -poorly named- Victor, 2004 was his first go around at being the arch-enemy of everything that is good in the world. With enthusiastic backing from Putin and some enthusiastic ballot stuffing in Ukraine, Victor "won" the election in 2004.

His opponent, liberty-loving and pro-Western, Victor (common name, huh?) Yushchenko, did not concede his defeat. Instead "the Orange Revolution" happened. Somebody tried to poison Yushchenko because he loved freedom. He survived this attempt on his life and people rallied to his side. They asked for a free and fair election. They sang songs and wore orange scarfs, there was even some Ukrainian hip-hop with democracy-loving grandmas waiving their arms to the beat.

These events in 2004, once again led the West to the the discovery that Ukraine exists, and since Ukraine exists solely so that it can be perpetually saved from Russia, many a western statesman and opinion leaders swiftly galloped their way to Kiev on their white stallions. Europe and America demanded a good election for the Ukrainian people for whose welfare they care deeply even if their country is hard to understand or even find on the map.

As a result of internal and external pressure, the first election was annulled and a second one held. This time the bad Victor lost and the good Victor won. Ukraine was free!

The west promptly began to forget that Ukraine exists- because for Ukraine to exist it has to be involved in some sort of a conflict involving Russia. The forces of good has prevailed and the Orange Revolution looked like a success.

But unfortunately this tale doesn't have a good ending. For there is a group of sinister people for whom Ukraine never ceases to exist, they always want to pull her into their sad and downtrodden empire. These dark, undemocratic trolls are called Russians. These subhumans have an evil and crafty overlord troll and the mere mention of his name causes trepidation in hearts of all freedom-lovers everywhere- Vladimir Putin.

Putin observed the events in Ukraine with some concern, taking in all information like a hamster stuffing his ample cheeks with nuts. Now the KGB hamster in the Kremlin had some hard nuts to chew on.

Anyway, at this point I will cease my satirical approach and try to propel myself to actually review this book.

Since -as everyone now knows- Putin is a former KGB agent he views the world in a certain way. He viewed the events in Ukraine in 2004 as a western operation to change the post-Soviet geopolitical map. A manifestation of the desire of western powers to get closer to Russia by staging revolutions to overthrow pro-Russian governments. With the Kiev democracy crowd being nothing more than pawns in a new Great Game, with this Great Game being not so great because it actually concerned Russian borders and her key interest (aka Ukraine) as opposed to the other Great Games that took place in distant Asia a while back.

Since the westerners used a democracy movement to topple a pro-Russian government in Kiev, who's to say that they won't be bold enough to use the same party trick to topple the actual Russian government in Moscow?

Putin -and most Russians- believe that the West likes their Russia to be weak, pliable and chaotic. This is why the West loved the corrupt and frequently inebriated Yeltsin- he made the motherland soft like a marshmallow. For Putin, a possible Orange Revolution in Russia was not just a threat to his rule, it was a threat to mother Russia herself. The mother Russia he wanted to be seen as strong, hard, pragmatic and assertive on the world stage. Therefore countermeasures against a potential orange revolt needed to be taken- for the sake of both the fatherland and the tsar.

One of his countermeasures is the topic of these two volumes titled "The Quest for an Ideal Youth in Putin's Russia."

Putin needed a youth movement of his own, that would be shown on state television to warn potentially orange Russians from causing any kind of a silly ruckus in the capital, and to counter-protest such a ruckus should it arise. His strategist came up with such a movement, the pro-Putin oligarchs funded it, and it was christened... wait for it, wait for it... it was called, "Youth Democratic Anti-Fascist Movement."

Are you surprised by the title?

What did you think such a movement would be called? "Youth Fascist Anti-Democratic Movement" or "Papa Putin's Youth Brigade."

The anti-fascist part originates from the fact that at the time Russia had a flowering of different neo-nazi gangs, that screamed "Russia for Russians" and attacked migrant workers from former Soviet republics who came to Moscow and other cities to do underpaid construction work among other things. The Russian nationalist extremists would beat up and sometimes even kill those migrants because they didn't fit into their idea of an ethnically pure motherland.

Because a pro-government youth organization would readily be accused of being neo-fascist by snarky Russian liberals and western reporters, it made perfect sense for this movement to loudly proclaim their anti-fascism cred right in their very name.

The democratic part stems from *cough* Valdimir Putin's life-long commitment to democracy. Or could also be interpreted in the same vain as the "anti-fascist" part of the name, an attempt to preempt obvious criticisms that a pro-government youth movement is by definition anti-democratic. The Kremlin seems to be saying that since most Russians support the government, of course our youth movement is democratic- giving voice to the Putin-loving masses!

However in Russia and abroad this movement was almost never referred to as "Youth Fascist Anti-Democratic Movement" instead the movement itself (and its critics) called it "Nashi."

The Russian word "nashi" vaguely translates as the English word, "ours" as in, "John is our man in Baghdad."

In Russian, the word implies a kind of spiritual affinity and kinship. If a Russian were to say, "John is our man (nash chelovek)" it would imply that -unlike most foreigners- John shows a deep insight into and a deep connection to the Russian condition. For a Russian to say that to John would be almost the highest form of compliment if John really wanted to be a Russian bro in spite of his non-Russia origin. Kind of like if a black rapper called an inspiring white rapper, "my n***a." Major props in the common American lexicon.

Anyway, a pro-Putin youth movement calling itself "nashi" clearly hinted that the anti-Putin opponents of the youth movement were "ne nashi" or "not ours" in English. Meaning that in spite of their Russian birth those "ne nashi" people supported (either through stupidity or treason) foreign ideological currents designed by Russia's enemies to weaken -or maybe even destroy- the country.

Predictably opinions on Nashi varied depending on who you asked. To Russian liberals and westerns observers, Nashi were a type of a "Hitler's Youth" organizations highlighting Russia's slide away from democracy. To enthusiastic supporters of Putin, Nashi were an ideological defense force guarding the motherland from internal and external enemies. To the vast majority of Russians, Nashi were a marginal presence they apathetically observed on state television staging demonstrations, picnics and singing patriotic songs.

In the two volumes of The Quest for an Ideal Youth in Putin's Russia, the academic authors wanted to chronicle and analyze this pro-government youth movement and make conclusions about what Nashi told us about Putin's Russia.

Right off the bat I want to state my personal dissent from the title of these two very good books. I never saw Nashi as a part of a broad government quest to shape an "ideal youth" in Russia.

I basically saw it as a useful but fundamentally reactionary organization, created to react against perceived threats rather than chisel out an outline of an ideal Russian youth.

Imagine yourself as Putin sitting in the Kremlin, if there is a mass youth demonstration against your rule, you certainly have the resources and the power to break up this demonstration with brute force. But that solution doesn't feel satisfying. That outcome wouldn't be satisfying because by breaking it up by force you undermine your own democratic legitimacy. Russians and outsiders see a dichotomy of peaceful protesters and a ruthless state working to suppress them. You will certainly win the battle but you will -just as certainly- lose the image war.

Now imagine yourself as the Russian president who has a youth organization that loyally supports you. Now if there is a democratic demonstration against you, you have your own card to play called "the Youth Democratic Anti-Fascist Movement" aka Nashi.

Not only are they youths but they are also "democratic" and "anti-fascist" and they have your back!

With this organization you can stage "democratic" counter-demonstrations against your opponents. The simple black and white picture of the state being opposed by democratic youths will be muddied by a presence of another "democratic" force that supports the state. The presence of pro-government youths will make the need of suppressing the anti-government youngsters less urgent. You can let them have their demonstrations unless they get too crazy, knowing that the anti-government crowd will not enjoy the monopoly on presenting the "youth perspective" to the Russian public.

Since this youth movement was created by the Kremlin in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine it makes sense to return to the way that event was interpreted by Putin. Foreign intelligence agents used the Ukrainian masses to advance their geopolitical goals of prying Ukraine away from Russia's sphere of influence. Just as those CIA agents behind the scenes didn't have the lofty aim of creating an "ideal Ukrainian youth" the Russian government need no concern itself with this task at home.
 
What was needed was a controlled movement that would make a Russian Orange Revolution less likely. Nashi could be viewed as an internal intelligence operation created to empower the state's ability to persevere in light of a possibility of a foreign-sponsored revolt.

Of course even a government-engineered youth movement cannot be created around this narrow goal of protecting the ruling regime, so -naturally- some sort of a movement ideology needs to be quickly slapped together to make things look legit. This slapped-together ideology then creates an illusion that the project was about shaping an "ideal youth" when in reality it had much more programmatic and limited objective. Nashi was a tactical weapon in my view.
 
Therefore analyzing the movement's ideology to gain insights into Putin's Russia -while having some use- is fundamentally misguided. Nashi were created primarily to act and not to believe. Some sort of a belief system is necessarily for acting but a dissemination of this sorry excuse for an ideology in these books shows its basic irrationality and hollowness.

"Fascism is bad but supporting the state is good."

"Democracy is good, but foreign sponsored democratic organizations are a sinister foe."

"Russian Orthodox Church is vital to Russian identity but the atheist Soviet state that almost destroyed this church is worthy of sentimental nostalgia."  

"Spirituality is important but material acquisition is a sign of progress made under our wise leader."

The most useful thing that could be gained from dissecting Nashi's "ideology" is the revelation of the total ideological confusion that characterizes post-Soviet Russia.

Russians see communism as a utopian pipe-dream but reminisce fondly about living in the mighty and cultured USSR. The average Russian hardly ever goes in for a church service, but the Russian Orthodox church is a widely respected moral and cultural institution- a vital link to Russian history and spirituality. Russians live in a formally democratic state but most seem not to be perturbed by and support a man who ruled this state for over 14 years, defying western democratic norms. Russians revel in making self-deprecating jokes and criticizing their government, but often become easily offended and sometimes even outraged when criticism of their country comes from abroad. Russians know that Stalin is viewed in the same vein as Hitler by outsiders, but have their own complicated view of the dictator because under him Russia became an industrial superpower and won the existential battle of the Great Patriotic War (aka WW2). In post-Soviet Russian, the last tsar and his family were made saints by the church, proclaimed as martyrs for the faith. And yet statues of Lenin adorn the squares that house the churches where people pray the royal family whose execution he ordered.

The question as to whether Nashi were a part of a quest for an "ideal" youth goes to the heart of the question about the nature of Putin's regime. It does so because only truly totalitarian regimes, like Stalinist USSR, have the resources or the will to undertake a project like that.

It is not my opinion that Putin is a head of a totalitarian regime with well-defined ideological objectives.

There are two basic types of dictatorships- authoritarian and totalitarian. Authoritarian regimes emphasise patriotism, tradition and the national leader but aside from that don't have a grand ideological design. Totalitarian regimes emphasise the national leader and patriotism but they often battle tradition (religion, old customs, etc.) seeing in those traditions an implicit threat to its rule. While the main goal of an authoritarian regimes is simply to stay in power and reach some economic or foreign policy objectives, the goal of totalitarian regimes is to completely reshape society. We can see this most clearly in the Cultural Revolution in China, when literally thousands of priceless historical monuments were destroyed by fanatical Red Guards following the direction of Chairman Mao to decimate the old so a new communist society could rise from the ashes of antiquity.

Its clear (hopefully to even the most fanatical Putin-haters) that he is no Chairman Mao. In fact, I personally wouldn't classify the current political system in Russia as either totalitarian OR authoritarian.

All dictatorships rest and gain their power through the use of force against the population. The population -depending on the segment- may or may not believe the state ideology but everyone knows that their freedom and life are in danger if they cross the state. This threat of force underlines all dictatorships regardless of whether they are totalitarian or authoritarian, whether they are on the right or left of the political spectrum.

I don't see the majority of Russians living in this state of fear. And I don't see this state of fear as a foundation of Putin's rule. Throughout his reign, Putin has always enjoyed the support of the majority of the population - this according to both Russian and foreign opinion polls.

His legitimacy in Russia rests on this popular support expressed in poll and repeated election victories. These election victories are not seen as legitimate by Russian liberals and many westerners but what matters to Putin is that they are seen as legitimate by the silent majority of Russians.

Thus the most apt description of Putin's rule that I have encountered goes by the strange name of a "managed democracy." Managed democracies and regular democracies are the same only in the sense that in both systems the governments cares about public opinion and see winning elections as the origin of their legitimacy. Both western democracies and Russia's managed democracy try to influence public opinion but in Russia's case the cards are stacked. Russian government controls national television and limits the rights to protest.  

Nevertheless -as I have already stated- in a managed democracy the government doesn't resort to the use of massive force against the population. A managed democracy is not a true democracy because it actively works to limit spontaneity and a managed democracy can easily morph into an authoritarian regime (as happened in Belarus) if it loses the support of the population. Without popular support, the government will have to shift to using massive force to retain its rule. Thus far, the Russian population continues to support Putin, in fact -after the recent events in Ukraine- he once again enjoyed public approval upward of 70%.

This to Putin's critics (inside and outside the country) proves that he is a master propagandist with most Russians presented as gullible sheep. But to me, while I do acknowledge the awesome power of managing public opinion, I don't think that Putin's approval could be explained by effective propaganda alone. I think Putin's critics have to reconcile themselves to the fact that most of his most controversial policies (fighting and imprisoning oligarchs, warring for Russian interests in Ukraine, severely limiting gay rights, putting much of the natural resource economy under state rule, etc.) are supported by most Russians not because they were brainwashed into supporting them but because they were naturally inclined to support these policies in the first place. The fact is that Russia is a conservative country that is often suspicious of the west and has a long history of being ruled from the center. Thus Putin is as much an expression of Russian democracy as he is its manager.

Therefore for me, the Nashi movement is another manifestation of a managed democracy. Instead of imprisoning or killing potential Russian revolutionaries -as dictatorships would have done- he created a parallel youth movement to counterbalance their influence and give voice to what he sees as the legitimate opinions of the patriotic and silent Russian majority that is weary of pro-western revolutions. Instead of creating a compulsory youth ideology as a totalitarian regime would do, he created a movement where participation was voluntary (and often well-compensated). Nashi was another example of an attempt to massage public opinion instead of crushing it. Once the threat of an Orange Revolution receded in Russia, Nashi were effectively disbanded. They have served their purpose and were no longed needed.

While I don't agree that Nashi were a part of Putin's "quest for an ideal youth" I do understand why this title graces the covers of these two fine books. After all, it beats the title of, "The Quest for an Ideal Tactical Movement to Dissuade People from Supporting an Orange Revolution in Putin's Russia."

 The first volume written by Ivo Mijnssen covers the history of the movement from its inception in 2005 to its dissolution in 2013. Volume II written by Jussi Lassila focuses on Nashi's communications, belifs, political rituals. The struggle between Russia's youth political apathy and Nashi's conformism. The first book is more focused on the interplay of Nashi's activities and beliefs in the context of current and past Russian realities. The second volume is a little more abstract focusing on Nashi's communications, their ideology, the meaning the movement had to participants in it.

If you are dying to know about the Nashi movement but can't afford both of these books, I would recommend the first one if you had to choose between the two.

My reason has to do with my bias where I believe that the Nashi were created to act rather than believe. They movement was born in the minds of Kremlin men to appear on television, to demonstrate, to fight the regime's ideological enemies. They were not created to write books or write manifestos because their handlers knew quite well that -aside from academics, critics of the movement and a few of its participants- no one would want to read that crap.

Let me give a brief overview of Nashi's ideology, "The motherland is great! Putin's regimes works for the benefit of the country and Russia is rising from its knees, shaking off post-Soviet weakness and humiliation. There are enemies of Russia -foreign and domestic- who want to put her back on her knees, these enemies must be identifies as such and protested so they don't weasel their way into positions of power. Now YOU, young Russian, love your country! Participate in sports! Don't drink too much! Support papa Putin and his cuddly cub Medvedev! Respect veterans and remember the Great Patriotic War! Go make some babies, our demography isn't that great!"

That's about it. Reading too much into those platitudes for the sake of finding a key to the hidden essence of modern Russia isn't that useful. Especially if you consider that this "ideology" directly effected on youth movement that existed for less than a decade and was completely marginal and peripheral to they eyes of 99% of Russian young people who hardly noticed it at all.

Unlike the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution that killed thousands of people and destroyed countless landmarks of the ancient civilization, the Nashi movement hardly effected Russian history in any tangible way. They were a created phantom of the regime, they served their purpose of keeping stability to attacking ideological currents that could undermine it and they they were disbanded when their antics became a little too enthusiastic and embarrassing to the Kremlin. The Red Guards overturned and destroyed Chinese history; by contrast, the Nashi gave a quick hand job to Russia's public opinion and left the scene. That's about the extent of their overall importance from the world historical perceptive.      

Therefore the first volume that covers the history of the movement seems more useful to me because it is equally concerned with what Nashi did as well as what they believed. But I would recommend both books if you are really hungry for Nashi knowledge.    

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Book Review: "The Dalai Lama and the King Demon" by Raimondo Bultrini

An awkward video of HH Dalai Lama being heckled by an idiotic westerner who worships an ancient Tibetan spirit. The Dalai Lama tries to engage her in a conversation while she replies with the same words repeated over and over again, sounding like a broken cassette player.

(I began my review with an overview of this controversy, followed by my opinion of this book. If you want to skip straight to my review of this book, scroll down to the "***" sign.)

This volume covers a fascinating history of a religious/political conflict within Tibetan Buddhism. This spiritual conflict continues today and involves the Chinese government, Tibetans and westerners alike, but it features most prominently His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a ferocious spirit believed by its opponents (myself included) to be a sinister force and its supporters as an enlightened guardian of the path to bliss.

In the past few decades fanatical American and British devotees of the "kind demon" (though they would describe him differently) could be seen in well-organized groups loudly protesting H.H. Dalai Lama outside the venues which host his talks during his visits to the west. They accuse him of being a "liar" and of suppressing the human rights of the devotees of this spirit because he actively discouraged this fanatical spirit worship among practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism believing that spirit-worship is detrimental to Tibetan unity and compromises the purity of Buddhist teaching which are concerned with finding lasting happiness through mind training, contemplation and compassion.

These spirit-lovers filed lawsuits against HH Dalai Lama in Indian courts and submitted petitions to western human rights organizations to condemn HHDL for his alleged "suppression of religious freedom." The Indian courts dismissed the lawsuits and human rights organizations issued statements clearly stating that no "suppression of human rights" has occurred.

Yet none of this deters members of this peculiar cult from heckling HH Dalai Lama during his talks and even putting up a propaganda website that accuses this Nobel Prize winner (among other idiotic charges) of harboring sympathies for the Nazis when he was a teenager in Tibet. It is important to note that while these pro-spirit forces wrap themselves in a mantle of religious freedom there is no recorded instance of practitioners of this cult ever demonstrating against the Chinese government's policies in Tibet which have caused over a hundred Tibetans to literally set themselves on fire and perish in the flames in recent years to demonstrate the level of repression they are experiences in their own homeland. For those protesters the Dalai Lama is their number one enemy, for millions of Tibetans he is their best hope for freedom, and hundreds if not thousands of them faced and continue to face the risk of prison and torture just for calling for his return to Tibet.

This conflict therefore is extremely interesting and relevant because it exists at the intersection of modern spirituality and politics and traces its origins back hundreds of years to the great Fifth Dalai Lama who unified Tibet under his leadership in the 1600s.

I myself started my Buddhist path in one of the centers devoted to this spirit. Although in the short time I spent there, I didn't hear any criticism of the current (14th) Dalai Lama, I do remember staring at a huge golden statue of the "king demon" that stood to the right of the Buddhist shrine.

After about 2 or 3 months, I finally did some research on this issue, found myself in total agreement with HH Dalai Lama and left to go to a mainstream Tibetan Buddhist center- never once regretting my decision to leave.

The conflict stems from the sectarian divisions between the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Although to an outsider, all Tibetan monks, nuns and lamas look the same- in reality they represent distinct traditions.

In effect all those traditions are similar but each has its unique methods and teachings- passed down from master to student for hundreds of years. No school is better or worse, but Buddhists believe that the Buddha taught different paths to enlightenment because people seeking it have different disposition and one approach or method would not be suitable for all. These schools could be viewed as different paths to the center of a map, everyone is going to the same place, but because people start at different points on the map they will set out in different directions and follow different routs to reach the same goal.

For the most part, these schools of Buddhist coexist peacefully. But since all societies are imperfect, conflicts did and do flare up occasionally. Over time, one of the schools became ascendant and started to dominate political power in the land of snows.

H.H. Dalai Lama belongs to this school and the fact that he is an almost universally revered figure among Tibetans -in a way- demonstrates the influence of this school. Over time, a fundamentalist streak developed within this school of Buddhism creating a conflict between the Dalai Lama and the fundamentalists. The latter believed their teachings to be superior to those of other sects. They started worshiping this spirit with some believing that this spirit would actually harm or kill adherents who took teachings from other Buddhist schools.

By receiving those "alien" teachings the students would contaminate their pure lineage of teachings and cause them to eventually degenerate - losing their unique power to enlighten. Some fundamentalists even physically destroyed statues and monasteries of other schools. As a spiritual leader of all Tibetans, different Dalai Lamas -past and present- discouraged this practice throughout their different reincarnations.

Finally, the current Dalai Lama who respects and received teachings from all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, stated that if anyone wants to receive teachings from him they should stop this spirit worship that runs counter to Buddhist teachings. This is an extremely simple and brief introduction to this controversy- but then again, you can read this book (and other sources) to get a deeper perspective.

***

With my background and interest in Tibetan history (stemming from my devotion to Tibet's religion) I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of this book in the mail.

Alas, reading this book was somewhat of a disappointment. The narrative begins with the brutal murder of Geshe Lobsang Gyatso that happened in the vicinity of the Dalai Lama's residence in India. Geshe Lobsang Gyatso and two of his students were killed mercilessly by the devotees of this spirit for his vocal criticism of the cult and his total devotion to HH Dalai Lama. The killing was meant as a kind of message to the Tibetan government in exile to warn them not to mess with the cult. The killers then fled to Chinese occupied Tibet, and the government there refused to extradite the killers- happy with the discord in the Tibetan exile community.

The problem with Bultrini's writing is that he presents this story in a form of a novel. And -frankly- not even a very good novel. The first chapter begins with the scene before the murder. Here we are treated to the thoughts of Geshe Lobsang Gyatso as well as his conversation with his monk students the night they were killed. Since all three were murdered, how can the author possible know their last words to each other, let alone their actions or thoughts?

I have to conclude that this first scene in a non-fiction book is -in fact- a work of fiction. Then the story progresses and the main character becomes the Indian policeman, Rajeev Kuman Singh, the chief investigator of this religious act of terrorism on Indian soil.

Mr. Singh is presented as a Sherlock Holmes type character- philosophical, brilliant, and well-disciplined. In Bultrini's narrative, he is matched with a womanizing and party-loving police sidekick.

In one of the opening scenes, Mr. Singh's wife complains to him about his schedule and criticizes his goofy sidekick whom he defends loyally.

One has to wonder, would an Indian police inspector give such intimate details of his family life to an Italian journalist- especially when it involves his wife criticizing one of his subordinates? I highly doubt it. But there is even more, the whole description of the investigation is extremely detailed.

At one point, Mr. Singh's thoughts are described to us as he contrasts Hinduism with Tibetan Buddhism while he is searching for Geshe Lobsang Gyatso's killers. All his conversations with Tibetans or his superstitious Indian subordinates (afraid of the foreign spirit's wrath) are presented in a form of dialogue as if all of the people are characters in a mystical detective story.

Since the western writer wasn't present in the room when those conversations took place or when Mr. Singh formulated his private thoughts, how could he possible have access to this treasure trove of material?

Did inspector Singh keep a detailed personal diary where he recorded his thoughts and feelings? Did he then present this diary to Mr. Bultrini- a stranger from Italy? Did the Indian policeman have a photographic memory worthy of a autistic wunderkind?

This rich novel treatment of the investigation goes on for a hundred pages. I'm sorry but I can't rationally classify this first part of the book as anything else than a work of fiction based on a true story. Also from the very first moments of reading it is clear that the spirit cult is responsible for the murder and the killers flee to China so really there is no great mystery to unravel- the investigation could have been summed up in twenty pages or less.

The other part of the book are much better and give a decent religious and historical perspective on the conflict. Yet -here and there- the Italian writer's fancy seems to overpower him and he again slips into sharing with us things like the personal thoughts of the young Dalai Lama or ruminations of a medieval Tibetan lama, Drakpa Gyaltsen, who is believed to be at the origin of the "king demon."

I think that the only first-person narrative in a non-fiction book should be that of the writer. It is hard enough to imagine the intimate thoughts of those closest to us, let alone Tibetan lamas and Indian officers of the law.

Creative license belongs in Hollywood movies and novels, not in historical accounts. This book contains a lot of great information but unfortunately this information was tainted for me by style with which it was often presented. Since I found the writer's presentation not credible, it was harder to accept other parts of the book as solid reality. If I wanted to read a great novel I would pick up Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, not a book titled "The Dalai Lama and the King Demon."

Since this is only book-length treatment of this fascinating and important controversy, I still recommend it. In spite of my personal reservations, I readily admit that it deepened my understanding of the topic.

However, I would enjoy this book so much more if it was written in a more realistic way.          

Sunday, August 10, 2014

"Pro-Russian Civilians" and their Discontents


But Western leaders and analysts remain unconvinced Mr. Putin will be willing to be taunted endlessly or to permit extensive deaths of pro-Russian civilians. 

Direct excerpt from an NYT article that discusses the possibility of a Russian military intervention in Eastern Ukraine.

Logical flip of this argument seems to suggest that that "Western leaders and analysts" are themselves quite comfortable with the inevitability of "extensive deaths of pro-Russian civilians" as a result of the current offensive by Kiev, with the only drawback being that it could "taunt" the rash Putin into sending his military to east Ukraine.

Meanwhile in the same NYT dispatch, "officials in Kiev say the militias and the army coordinate their actions, but the militias, which count about 7,000 fighters, are angry and, at times, uncontrollable. One known as Azov, which took over the village of Marinka, flies a neo-Nazi symbol resembling a Swastika as its flag."

I guess the surviving "pro-Russian civilians" will know that democracy and freedom are at hand when they see an "angry and, at times, uncontrollable" militia triumphantly enter their towns waiving flags with a "neo-Nazi symbol resembling a Swastika."

It is precisely at that point when the "pro-Russian civilians" will surely fall on their knees and thank their luck stars that Moscow didn't intervene with its army.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

One Suicidal Step Toward Enlightenment


Tibet was never a mysterious place to my mind. It is much less mysterious to me than the Western world we live in. Tibet makes more sense.

If I imagine a regular reader of my blog, I see a cerebral and skeptical person without deep religious convictions. To him, my posts about Buddhism may seem like a strange aberration or some Russian spiritualist eccentricity- cute but fundamentally irrational. A crazy dance of a smart writer's inner-hippy.

Not so to me; for me, Buddhism is the foundation of my life. Buddhism is my life. If I weren't a Buddhist, I would likely be a cold corpse laying with some cheap gun gripped in my dead hand. I would have a garbage bag over my head to hide my body from innocent passers-by and a note plastered to my car window explaining the situation to the professionals who would eventually take my remains away.

My car would be parked by some abandoned factory in the Midwest or maybe at a far corner of a park. If I could get my hands on some heroin it would me coursing through my veins as the blood flow would start grinding to a halt, abandoned by the withering blood pump of my heart that was plugged out by its owner.

In absence of heroin, I might take Phenibut - a pretty powerful anti-anxiety agent developed in the Soviet Union for its space program. It is a mighty drug that in Russia could only be acquired at pharmacy with a prescription. Due to its obscurity, in America you can buy it online (as I have) and receive it in powder form that you mix with your ice tea. I take it sometimes in my everyday life but I don't indulge because long-term use can lead to withdrawal symptoms similar to those of the big H.

Alternatively -on my last day- I could just be drunk; though I doubt that because alcohol never did much for me.

I'm not afraid of death itself but I would need some relaxant to help me pull the trigger, block out the thoughts of the consequences my suicide would have on my family and friends and to bypass the fear I have of a temporary sharp pain that may accompany the process of dying after a bullet has blasted a hole in my body.

A song would be playing on my car stereo. Bird on a Wire by Leonard Cohen,

Like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.

A verse that I often put into the imaginary drafts of my suicide note.

I'm not bringing up this grim scenario to elicit pity from my few readers or because it has reincarnated in my mind over and over, asking me indulge. I bring it up because I do believe that to a large degree we do create our reality with out thoughts, actions and accompanying emotions.

We are like shamans, submerged deep in a trance, dancing in a circle of our own life. Repeating the same dreams, desires and griefs like schizophrenics chanting an insane mantra. This neurotic circle of thoughts and emotions that defines our life isn't real in on of itself but we believe it to be real. It becomes our highest reality. Our dance makes the circle close in on us, becoming ever more suffocating. What began as a joyful dance over a large circumference regresses into a beleaguered shuffle, a painful spinning on a single spot- a crude perversion of the swirling dervishes. We have looked for freedom in the wrong place.  

We then invent a merciless God, carefully construct a sacrificial altar and then willingly slit our own throat after climbing atop it. Our sacrifice goes nowhere and means nothing. The dramatic and painful orchestra music that accompanied our demise disappears with our dying breath, it never existed anywhere outside of our head and even there -with all of its glory- it was a hollow illusion.

The pain in our life is born out of ignorance. But it is not a purely conceptual ignorance. The kind that says that two plus five equals three and could be overturned with an instant conceptual correction.

It is a tragedy that in the modern world we search for a conceptual solution to the suffering of being.

We want to climb to a far off Himalayan mountain where a mysterious oriental archetype of a yogi will present us with a magical equation that will unplug our pain like a plunger unclogging a toilet stuffed with shit-stained paper. Not quite so.

Suffering is all encompassing, it permeates our body, heart and head. But because we formulate this pain and define it to ourselves in a form of abstract thoughts, we expect the solution to also be in that form. To steal an old Freudian metaphor, our conscious thoughts are just the tip of the iceberg. Thus it is rational that to dismantle this iceberg we have to go deeper.

And this is where Tibet comes in. I see that land and her people as the civilizational equivalent of a Soviet nuclear-powered icebreaker ship- ramming through the icy pain of life. Flawed to be sure, flawed because all societies are, but less flawed than most. A powerful land whose power was invisible on the geopolitical map defined by brute force. A country who vanished from that map when brute force invaded her unguarded borders to claim her.

I often think of a comparison between old Tibet and Germany in the first half of the twentieth century. On the surface, Germany would be considered the more civilized land. Modern scientific knowledge was so poor in Tibet that most of the population believed that the earth was flat. Crop failures were addressed with rituals performed by traveling shamans whose religion predated the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet. The game of soccer was condemned by some monastic authorities because -as one monk stated- bouncing the ball is like kicking the Buddha's head.

Child mortality was unacceptably high but the Tibetan children who did survive didn't have to worry about being drafted to be cannon fodder in another bloody political gamble. They lived in a world, where protective spirits guarded the monastery gates where reincarnated saints prayed and meditated for the welfare of all living beings (from the fly hovering above feces to the nobles in their gilded estates), saints who were believed to carry on duties in replaceable human bodies for hundreds and -in case of some reincarnations- thousands of years. They lived in a country where every animal they encountered had to be treated with fundamental compassion because in the beginningless flow of the spirit, at a different juncture in the time/space continuum, this animal was their mother from a previous life.

In Tibet new monastery construction often took ages to complete because any worm found in the earth would be carefully carried to safety. This compassion may seem insane but it created a gravitational pull that would make an idea of a Tibetan Hitler so absurd that today a hipster band could adopt a name like that for its ironic value. The fuhrer simply couldn't function in a society that reserved empathy for invertebrates aside from being a raging beggar regarded with pity and fear.

The Aryan heart was open to him and so Germany stood there with one of the most advanced legacies of culture in the western world. With a heritage overflowing with Mozarts, Goethes and Hegels and yet this whole mountain of polished cultural pearls crumbled in an instant when confronted with the Nazi rational of revenge and racial hatred that spoke to many in that country. It did as much to guard Germans from their own destructive emotions as the brilliance of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy did to guard Russians from the ravages of the civil war and Stalinism. It did as much as the genius of Thomas Jefferson did to prevent him from viewing Africans as smelly subhumans worthy of slavery, this in spite of the fact that he fathered six children with a slave woman who was an unacknowledged half-sister of his deceased wife.

In a way, all that culture was fundamentally useless (a profound but ultimately superficial genius that only tickled the tip of the iceberg of our awareness) because it did little to guard those self-defined islands of humanity from losing their most precious quality - compassion.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama always gets most passionate when speaking with children and young adults. He describes the twentieth century as a century of bloodshed and tells the youth that the twenty-first century should be a century of peace. He tells them about his own mother, a kind peasant woman, and how the seed of his compassion came from her rather than from religious training. He tells them to cultivate compassion, to erase mental barriers between self and other as means of achieving happiness for themselves and peace for the world.

It is in a way amazing that thousands of people gather to hear him speak in the west. Most people know next to nothing about Tibet, its particular version of Buddhism or the lineage of reincarnates that the current Dalai Lama represented as the living embodiment of the Boddhisatva of compassion - Avalokitesvara (Chenrezig in Tibetan). He stands there knowing full well that most of his audience has no idea that his lineages stretches back to the fourteenth century and that many Tibetans consider it sacrilegious to look into his eyes. They don't know that he left Tibet when tens of thousands of his countrymen surrounded his palace in Lhasa to protect him from an alleged kidnap plot from the communist occupiers.

So why do they listen to this stranger from a mystical land? Suppose this attraction could be understood through his celebrity but this doesn't explain why people would sit for hours listening to a moral lecture delivered in his limited English. The commitment required is bigger than taking a picture together to quickly plaster it on facebook. People who do come are attracted -I believe- by his sincerity, presented without a hint of nervous, self-conscious energy that accompanies so many public speakers. His message of compassion resonates in a world where human interactions are so often transactional. A forced smile exchanged for a forced smile. A fake frowny face delivered when hearing bad news from a friend. A possibility of an orgasm as a reward for a night of drunk flirting and superficial tenderness. Petty, repetitive bickering -changing in pitch of irritation- as the defining feature of our political discourse.

The Dalai Lama represents a link to their faith, culture and freedom for Tibetans -all of which are under attack in their homeland. For thousands non-Buddhists who come to hear his public talks he represents a missing link of compassion in our rich societies.

Of course to many in the west the Dalai Lama represents nothing at all. To a cynical intellectual he appear as the monk of Hallmark card type platitudes- the irrelevant prophet of corny empathy. A proclaimer of agreeable sentiments that aren't particularly deep. More agreeable perhaps than the local bishop or televangelist but that's not saying much. This view neglects the fact that he has been taught complex Buddhist philosophy and logic -a tradition predating Christianity- since the age of six. He doesn't expose this aspect of himself to general audiences because Buddhism is not a proselytizing religion. But to me his basic ideas delivered to packed auditoriums hold true.  

H.H. Dalai Lama's American interpreter and noted Tibetologist Jeffrey Hopkins was surprised when the Dalai Lama said in English "compassion is society, society is compassion." At first he thought H.H. made a mistake. But then he realized the fundamental point being conveyed. Human beings can survive and even be happy without democracy, consumerism and even education and literacy. But no human life can exist without basic compassion shown to it when it was newborn and helpless. This basic biological seed of compassion is as crucial to our existence as oxygen, water and our DNA. Of course for some of us being reminded of that fact seems corny and trite.

Compassion however is the basic civilizational block, without it no society can function. We become more civilized when we move closer to compassion and we drift toward concentration camp savagery and self-destruction if we move away from it.

In our personal life, our neurotic circle closes in us if we disregard others and make our needs and pain the central deities of our suicidal shrine. We make an endless ocean out of our sorrows and are befuddled when we start to drown in them.

Belief in compassion of others and cultivation of it in ourselves open up channels of awareness in us that were muted before; it begins to show us the true reality of our interdependent world. A flawed and painful world where we can find peace and happiness.

Because Tibet made compassion its societal bedrock, it retains the same place in my heart that classics' scholars reserve for ancient Greece and the same spiritual reverence Muslims have toward Mecca and Medina. And place where philosophy, spirituality and religion did not drift into total segregation as they did in the west but were combined into one.

Don't mistake my view for the idealistic and starry-eyed adoration of Tibet as a snowy paradise or Shangri-la. I've read Tibetan history and know about the complicated and -at times- corrupt power structures that existed there- as they did and do exist in all human societies. The political plots and court conspiracies, the assassinations, the shifts of power between various schools of Tibetan Buddhism- the periodic interventions from Mongol Khans or Chinese emperors.

And yet in all those times -and even under the present brutal occupation- the prayer wheels kept turning, and yogis retreated into their caves to pursue single-pointed meditation. Mao's insane and heavy hand almost suffocated this lineage out of existence; but today, in the shadow of a brutal communist dictatorship fueled by our consumerism, it still clings to life.

In my biased opinion (as a Tibetan Buddhist) Buddha's teachings on interdependence and compassion took root there as they did nowhere else. There are Tibetan rapists, murderers and thieves as surely as there are Russian and American ones, but -overall- a unique moral shift has happened in the land of the snows that I'm not familiar with happening on that scale anywhere else.

A cult of violence and rabid hatred took hold in Germany in the first part of the twentieth century. Normally sensible and moral people joined together to form a ruthless machinery of war and genocide that left millions of victims in its wake. A cult of spirituality, compassion and interdependence took hold in Tibet with the first seeds planted by Padmasambava, a Tantric Indian  Buddhist master (from the area that is today Pakistan) who introduced Buddhism to Tibet around 747 AD.

If we want to understand Nazi Germany on a human level it helps to see how a crude ideology changed human behavior for the worse in a matter of years. If we want to understand Buddhist Tibet we have to acknowledge the power of teachings directing and molding the human spirit in a different direction for over a thousand years.

The power I see in the thousand-year Tibetan Reich is no less grandiose than the murderous ghost unleashed by the Nazis; but the Tibetan alternative is not as apparent to the naked eye. Hippies on acid see it better than Ivy League game theory professors.

Just as not all Germans became die-hard Hitlerites, not all Tibetans exemplified the total altruism and non-duality preached by Buddha, but the amazing thing is that thousands did.

Even from a non-religious point of view, one has to acknowledge that after thousands of hours of solitary meditation the reality those practitioners saw was different from our own; and from my  point of view, that reality was infinitely truer than ours.

Thus I am drawn to Tibet not our of its distant mystery but because of its existential logic. I never got a high out of unknown ideals. I am connected to Tibet because I see its rational, compassionate heart.

***

Today we are in awe of science of technology. To many secular humanists, scientists hold an approximate position to that held by shamans and saints in ancient times. They are supposed to answer our deepest questions about existence through studying the flashes and waves our brains generate when scanned with modern machinery. They are the pioneering breed who must chart our civilization's future.

Critics of our technological age are dismissed as irrelevant tree-hugging dupes or dull fanatics. The passing of Steve Jobs was accompanied by an outburst of mourning that was usually reserved for assassinated presidents or beloved popes.

A critical examination of our current reality somewhat dismantles the myth of a scientific Shangri-la that has seen many devotional prostrations offered in its direction.

Genocide as we know it today would not be possible without scientific progress. Genocide is an industrial convener belt designed for murder: a meeting of modern technologies and ancient hatreds.

Science has healed millions who would have perished before, but it has also nourished a population explosion of historic ramifications.

Seven billion humans inhabit the world today, where as for most of human history -up to 1830- less than a billion dwelt on planet earth. Today billions of us leave in slums defined by disgusting odors and lifelong, hopeless poverty. Perhaps our planet -with its rigid economic cast system- can sustain 10 or 11 billion men but is its potential for holding billions of our needy human race infinite?

Science -with the advent of nuclear weapons- has also brought our growing number closer to total self-destruction than ever before- in fact it totally invented the concept. The armies of Russian tsars, Mongol Khans and western imperialists might have been merciless but they could not have dreamed of a weapon that could turn whole nations into nuclear ash. Today -following the universal dictum of the ease creating something with repetition- even a bankrupt and starving nation like North Korea could afford itself such flights of fancy.

On the philosophical front, science has inspired Marx to develop his ideology viewed by his followers as the scientific theory of history and the brilliance of Darwin were central to Nazi racial theories. Today, no paradise exists either for the Aryan master race or the world proletariat. But graceful mountains could be built -with their peaks rising to the heavens- out of the bones of innocent men, women and children who had to die in the name of those phantom utopias.

Both of the ideologies listed above are seen as perversions of scientific truths however the fact that the inquisition was a perversion of Christian teachings doesn't prevent certain warring atheists from using it to lambaste the very notion of religion.

The point isn't to demonize science, the banal point I'm making is that not all of its fruits are sweet. These fruits were as poisonous as an Auschwitz chimney in the past and they could be deadly in the future as well.  
Maybe the Japanese are the only ones to see a flash and then have their burnt flesh peel off their body in layers. Maybe nuclear weapons will only be used once in human history... maybe not.

***

Sitting here as an unemployed twenty-eight year old Russian-American Tibetan Buddhist living in my mother's house, I see a world around me that could collapse into its own narrow dance or expand onward into a further continuum of its existence- with its blessings and curses.

To expand and persevere, it would need to embrace a sense of mutual interdependence and compassion professed by H.H. Dalai Lama in speeches you might dismiss as corny and free of real substance on account of their simplicity.

The nightmares of the twentieth century will repeat themselves unless we stay connected with and cultivate our basic empathy for each other. Society is compassion and compassion is society. I do accept that truth and fear for us if we neglect it in our manic march to meet tomorrow.

***

Recently a cursed, suicidal circle closed down on me and maybe a different and bright circle of awakening has emerged out of the melancholy mud of my mind and this circle is currently expanding out... I'm not sure if I am reading my psyche correctly but I feel like I'm right.

This essay here is really important to me. Personally -for myself- this is the most important thing I have written in my life so far.

But I struggled to write this and I am struggling to finish it now. In fact, I procrastinated and sat on it for over a week, typing out a few paragraphs here and there.

Although on this blog, I may sound like some post-modern diarist of my own life and and a cynical observer of global politics to boot- totally in sync with the rational, materialistic worldview of smart American liberals and the accompanying conventions of cultural relativism and ironic humor... this is not in fact who I really am.
Put in simpler words, if I were to write as I really think, the veneer of sanity would be shattered and you might be compelled to call the good doctor to take me away to a room with padded walls.

When I feel truest to myself, I see the world in a way that would be dismissed as mystical by my liberal cohorts.

A world closer to that inhabited by spirits and demons seen by my Russian pagan ancestors before this reality got walled off by the iron curtain of Orthodox Christianity and later Bolshevism. A world closer to that of Tibetan nomads than that of 21st century America.

I am both drawn and afraid of that world and often try to keep it under wraps, but since it seems to hold all the answers, I have to embrace it.

Embrace it to breathe.

Well, anyway, what I wrote above in neither here nor there... so I will stop with that line of thought and will try to continue to unravel it in private.

I'll just say that in the past few days and weeks, I felt the ground shift under my feel. But I am almost afraid to write about it, fearing that the progress that I made could be undermined -or even permanently reversed- if I put it into to words to be read by others.

"Form is emptiness and emptiness is form," as the supreme sutra says; and the magical sin of all good writing is confining emptiness to form only. An act of spiritual capture that often leaves the writer mentally unbalanced for his very talent is -in a certain way- a dangerous lie.

And here I am not even sure that I am any good at writing so why should I trespass on sacrilege?

Writing this now, I feel like a doctor doing an open heart surgery on himself. If the scalpel of my conceptual though touches the wrong vein, I could suffer.

The other dilemma I face is that the events that led to this "spiritual shift" within me are extremely pedestrian on the surface and contrast sharply with grand proclamations and insights that they triggered in my mind and that you may have read above- if you weren't a lazy skimmer who just skipped to read the end.

So forgive me for being cryptic, but I will just say that in the past weeks, I have wrestled with my deadly demon.

He having love for a mother and attachment for a father. Attachment was the force that almost drove me to take my own life because my mind got very small and focused on a narrow romantic goal.

When this attachment collapsed on me, instead of despair I felt something else. This attachment stabbed me and I bled a form of serenity and compassion that I didn't experience before. I came closer than I ever did before (in this life) to feeling pure, universal love.

I was alone in my room and I started sobbing- a highly uncharacteristic behavior for me.

I sobbed for about half an hour. I thought about her and I thought about me. But mostly I thought about the deep suffering in the world.

I thought about a man I used to drive for my work. Someone with a deadly oral cancer that could kill him in a matter of months. When he called his estranged father to tell him he had cancer, his dad told him that he is cooking right now and asked if he can call back later.

I thought about poverty, pain and hopelessness menacing so many beings.

I shouldn't say I thought about it, it is better to say that I felt it.

I felt it as if I was feeling my own countless deaths and rebirths.

Happening in every moment of every second. Happening so fast that I didn't see them before.

Of course, I didn't gain enlightenment through these sobs.

And in a way I gained nothing from it whatsoever.

But it was the most precious moment of my life.

You and I are brother and sister. Or brother and brother. Or sister and sister. Or mother and mother.

Or...perhaps the best way to put it... nothing and nothing. Self and self.

We cannot live without one another. And if we try, we suffer. Compassion for you is not a luxury for me. It is a means of survival.      

I will try to feel your sorrows and happiness the best I can because there is no other real way to live. You might be a hungry ghost or an ant or a serial killer or a high lama on a golden throne or a giraffe in the zoo.

I will do my best.

May all sentient beings have happiness
     and the causes of happiness;
May all sentient beings be free from suffering
     and the causes of suffering;
May all sentient beings never be separated from
     the happiness that knows no suffering;
May all sentient beings live in equanimity,
     free from attachment and aversion.