Love: A Model

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Love Model

Love is a nebulous concept at best. It refers in ordinary speech to such a wide range of human emotions and experiences that from the standpoint of semantic clarity and more effective communication, as well as greater self-knowledge, it’s of inarguable benefit to parse out this confusing word.

So what should first be obvious about this model (and hopefully in any discussion of love in general) is that love refers to a wide range of phenomenal and emotional experience. To the extent that it is an emotion it is surely a complex one, but in reality its nature extends beyond the limits of mere emotional experience. It is a mode of being: a paradigm of connection and relating to other beings and the whole of the external world.

So where I began in the task of understanding the full range of “love”‘s uses and how they relate to one another was in some of the different terms used by other languages and philosophical systems. Many (especially Christians) are familiar with the four Greek words for love: eros, philia, storge (pronounced store-gay), and agape (ah-gah-pay). Buddhists will be familiar with the four immeasurables (from which I derived loving-kindness, compassion, and acceptance) and bodhicitta. These different terms and their differences in meaning formed the basis of piecing together this model.

The initial division to bear in mind of the forms of love is that they are either rooted in desire or in what I’m calling altruism–selfless forms of love. But at their core anything to which the label “love” is applied has one thing in common:

1) Devotion

This is the core, unifying aspect of every form of love that exists, and I define it as a willingness to sacrifice–be it time, energy, preconceptions, values, self, or other things that we care for or love–for the sake of the thing we “love.” As this is the ultimate foundational aspect it’s worth considering the role that sacrifice plays in our lives, both subtle and apparent.

We can sacrifice our lives for another, or we can just sacrifice some of our money and time to watch our favorite movie that we “love.” We can sacrifice our preconceptions about what is “normal” or “right” to accommodate the lifestyle of a person we care about. Or we can sacrifice our energy and time to go to work to support our family, or even to court someone of romantic interest to us. In extreme forms we can sacrifice our own sanity and clarity of mind for something or someone we are neurotically addicted to, or we can sacrifice our very sense of an individual self, our ego, for the transcendent benefit of non-dual connection with others.

Our entire lives are basically a game of resource management, and everything we choose to do or to associate with in life is a choice of what to sacrifice and to what. Thus, love is at its core a question of devotion.

2) Eros

This is one of the more familiar aspects of love, and one of the most frequently referenced in everyday speech. This is romantic love: the love of the passionate, the intimate, the sexual, and everything pertaining to such connection with another individual or individuals. Except in rare cases of abnormal psychology I would say this is limited to connection with other humans, not animals or inanimate objects. Any experience of such desire for another person, for intimate connection with them, for sexual connection, any experience of lust or the like is an experience of eros.

3) Philia

This is the Greek word pertaining to friendly or brotherly love, or in compounded words like philosophy (love of wisdom) or any word ending in -phile or -philia. For me the semantic range is closer to that of the English word “fondness” or to “like” something. But bear in mind that it necessitates at least some degree of devotion or sacrifice. We experience philia with our friends, with our pets, and with any person who we can say we enjoy the company of. But we can also apply it to games, subjects of interest, hobbies, abstract concepts and so forth. Anything that we like to which we are willing to sacrifice some measure of our time, energy, money, and so on, is something to which we are experiencing philia. If you say you “love this show”, that you “love someone like a brother”, or even that you “love existentialism” you are loving that person or thing in the context of philia.

4) Storge

In the Greek this word had a connotation that more referred to familial love, or affection rooted in familiarity. But for me I have expanded this to what I call love out of duty. From the familiarity, from social or societal obligations we experience devotion towards others. Similarly if one can not even remember why they are devoted to someone or something (like religion) it is a devotion from duty. Furthermore, familial love is alone inadequate because a parent can love their child out of genuine philia, and because duty-based love is not intrinsically altruistic. It is a form of love which is selfish because it is fear of social implications, of punishment by a higher authority, or of guilt from of not exhibiting the devotion which motivates it. We see this in all forms of ritual when they are done non-mindfully or without proper understanding and motivation. Storge is a side of love which is often under-acknowledged due to its lack of “sexiness” (in the exciting or interesting sense, not the erotic), but which is important to be mindful of in one’s own life in seeking growth and more profound and meaningful experiences of connection.

5) Attachment

Desire-based forms of love are not unhealthy or inherently negative in and of themselves in any way. In fact, in many ways they are largely what make human life beautiful and worth experiencing. Attachment is what happens when they begin to get a little out of control and we begin to rely out of fear upon the thing we are connecting to. Because these are fundamentally self-motivated forms of love, attachment is when they are deeply associated with our sense of self. No longer do we just seek them, but we are afraid of NOT having that outlet of connection. When the fear of losing a lover sets in, or of whether a friend reciprocates our philia. When we fear even being away from our pet, lover, child, or whatever. This generally breaks down according to the four attachment styles in attachment theory. So long as the attachment remains a secure form of attachment it can actually be healthy in many kinds of close human relationships, like in close family members or in marriage as a kind of connective tether.

6) Neurosis

When attachment gets completely out of hand it becomes all manner of different mental disorders, addiction, or strong afflictive emotions like anxiety, depression, and the like. This is fairly easy to grasp in all manner of obsession and compulsive behaviors. This is the absolute dark side of love.

7) Loving-Kindness

In Buddhism there are the four immeasurables*, which are kind of like a list of four kinds of altruistic love for others that are of benefit to us spiritually or in terms of personal growth and dis-association with the ego. The first of these is loving-kindness which is the desire to see others experience happiness. It is the urge to make someone happy, like when we feel compelled to give someone a present that they will enjoy.

8) Compassion

This is the second immeasurable, and it is the desire to not see others suffer. When others are in pain we feel their pain empathetically. Not to where we are suffering ourselves, but where we feel a vivid comprehension of the other’s suffering and wish to ameliorate it however we can. When you see someone upset and are compelled to embrace them and offer your presence or your ear, you are experiencing compassion. When a mother will selflessly do anything she can to end her child’s pain she is demonstrating pure compassion.

9) Acceptance

This term encompasses the fourth immeasurable of equanimity, but for me holds a wider meaning. Equanimity is the experience of true neutrality of affect. Contentment in the present moment, without desire for something or aversion to anything. Acceptance begins from equanimity, but stresses it in terms of how we are relating to others. In acceptance we are devoted to a person as they are, without wanting them to be different in any way. Doing this is harder than it might seem, as it requires sacrificing our preconceptions, our world views, our ideas about the person, etc. When a deeply religious parent embraces their child’s difference in ideology or lifestyle that goes against their own, they are realizing true acceptance. When a person accepts their lover as they are completely, without wishing to see them change who they are, they are experiencing acceptance.

10) Bodhicitta

This term comes from Mahayana Buddhism and it represents the desire to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. The key aspect of it which applies to this model, and which represents the logical “next step” from the three basic altruistic loves is that it involves aspiration. On the basis of selfless love/devotion we seek to realize our best in every way, as that allows us to devote ourselves more effectively and deeply. It is the intent of self-transcendence in love. When in a healthy relationship a person wishes to improve, to grow, to be their best possible self, not for their own benefit, but for their partner’s benefit, it is an experience of bodhicitta. As bodhicitta progresses and expands it can grow to encompass the all-consuming aspiration to realize our highest potential to benefit all living things.

11) Agape

This is the final of the four Greek loves, and for this model represents the highest, most altruistic, ideal form of love–the love of non-duality. It is complete abandonment of the ego, complete conceptual unity with another or with all others, and all actions, words, and thoughts are an expression of altruistic love. Eating at this point is done with love felt towards the beings who provided the food for you and with the mindful, profound hope that the food can help to sustain your body so that you can continue to love others. This is enlightened love. The love felt by Jesus or the Buddha. Because you’ve conquered the self and realized a felt sense of unity with all things you enter a state of pure non-aggression. The realization of agape is the realization of our highest potential as human beings to love.

Final Thoughts

Each of the three basic altruistic loves and the three basic desire-based loves can easily become any of the other basic kinds of desire or altrusim based love, which are here represented by the arrows connecting them to each other. And even the lines between the three basic forms of desire-based love and between the three basic forms of altruistic love are fine and blurry. Compassion is the desire to not see others suffer, but that’s done through seeking their happiness sometimes. When does sexual attraction become philic love of the person or vice versa. It’s no wonder the concept of love is so nebulous!

But it is this quality of these characteristics that allows for one form of love to so easily lead to others. An initial connection in eros can lead to philia and storge as the emotional connection deepens, and even to loving-kindness, compassion, and acceptance.

“Being In Love With Someone”

When all of the six basic desire and altruism-based loves are experienced towards a person we have truly “fallen in love with them.” That experience of “being in love” with a person typically leads to both attachment and bodhicitta as well. When the bodhicitta fades it is no longer a healthy love of growth. When the attachment fades it can lose stability, groundedness, faithfulness, and security in the face of change. This is the ideal, or healthiest** form of “being in love.” Attachment rooted in eros, philia, and storge and bodhicitta rooted in loving-kindness, compassion, and acceptance, experienced as a unified whole towards a single person.

*I combined into loving-kindess the third immeasurable of empathetic joy or mudita which is experiencing happiness when witnessing the joy of others.

**Within this though, the attachment style can vary according to the four attachment styles presented in attachment theory. It is of course ideal that the attachment style experienced be the secure type, though experiencing it as one of the other three doesn’t preclude the real experience of authentically “being in love” with the other person.

Love Model

i am a human

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I am a human.
i do and say human things.
i sometimes like other humans,
though often i loathe them as well,
and no matter what i am committed
to the seemingly programmed aim
of benefiting my fellow humans.

But being a human can be tough sometimes
with all the silly systems and structures
put in place by some humans
to make life unnecessarily difficult
for other humans. i believe this
is because humans fear thinking,
which inevitably comes without something to distract our silly little ape minds.

It’s important to remember what we are,
to not take ourselves too seriously,
and to not forget that we basically
just shouldn’t harm each other or the planet.
All other silly ape desires you have are fine to pursue,
but they are just that.

Humans are dumb.
You are dumb.
I am dumb.

Let’s just play nice and have fun and
not stop other people from having fun.
If you think the other clothed apes are having fun wrong,
all you can do is show them how you
are having way more fun doing whatever you’re doing.
Telling them they’re having fun wrong
and arguing against them will change
nothing except making both you and them have less fun.

Have your fun, and
if you have enough of it,
others will join.
Because we’re just silly, fun-crazed apes after all.

Humanity is Never (/Always) at a Crossroads

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I don’t think humans ever reach a collective crossroads, or else they are constantly in the center of one. I think the metaphor’s purpose is to raise the urgent need for change in some form, but the idea it conjures in one’s mind is far from the truth. We exist in perpetual change: Permanent, inexorable change. We can always shape that change consciously, or relegate the direction of change to agentless processes.

There are always forces of entropy and order in a tug-of-war at play in every level of every system. Thus change and interdependence are ultimately indivisible sides of the same aspect of reality. Their unity holds the key in understanding the preciousness and power of a human life. To this aim, the misleading notion of the one, grand “crossroads” is actually fairly effective. But forget the idea of it, and instead embrace the idea it seeks to impart which is that your time as a human being is very precious and deserves to be taken full advantage of in the pursuit of creativity, wisdom, compassion, and connection to the ever-changing sea of systems upon systems which make up our shared reality, and in particular the beings which breathe life and sentience into that interdependent whole.

The Meaning of Communication

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Life is a combination of sensory experience and creative myths and metaphors around the complex and biotic organizations of sensory experiences. Beyond lucid clarity and awareness this is what makes up conscious experience. Every mental object amounts to a myth or metaphor of an aspect of objective, physical existence. Language, at the broadest level, is any attempted representation of a mental object, event, or phenomena–itself being a representation of some aspect of physical existence (thus making language “representation of representation”).

As soon as there is an effort to communicate through art or language (including math), there is the attempt at engaging two or more consciousnesses into an act of temporary union. This union through the sharing of experiences is the root of all forms of communication between organisms, and it is the purest form of connection that we can achieve in this world at this point. Communication, including language and art, is therefore the most basic expression of the human will, for it is the will that drives us away from the suffering of disconnection and towards the contentment of its opposite.

Here is the underlying force which pulls life inexorably onwards. It is why, when a person is drawn into connection with their senses and inanimate objects, it is the highest symptom of an illness of the will or spirit. Whether brought about from the person’s community or the person themself, they have failed to attain the necessary degree of connection with other living things to allow them to thrive in contentment as a living, conscious organism. A will wasted on sensory experience is an ill; the cure is pure connection to other conscious beings through the myth and metaphor of lucid experience.

An Authentic Lens on My Life and Romance

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I’m tired of all the bullshit that society puts into the heads of men and women about what’s attractive. And i’m tired of inauthenticity in people for fear of how they will be viewed by others.

When i think about the subjects that interest me: languages, philosophy, science, religion, spirituality, the arts, music, consciousness, sociology, etc., i’m filled with a burning enthusiasm: The kind of enthusiasm that children get when they’re going to an amusement park or opening presents on their birthday. I’m in awe, constantly in awe, of the growth and development of my own consciousness, as well as the consciousnesses of those around me, and of the world as a whole.

I lose myself in creative endeavors: Nightly in improvisation on guitar, and regularly in the form of designing new methods of study, of thinking, generating new ideas, unlocking the mysteries of “life, the universe, and everything.” And for 21, i’d say i’ve done a pretty decent job so far.

My general nature in life is to try to learn from every single little experience. For me, play is learning; pleasure is learning; dancing is learning; taking an intoxicant (on rare occasion) is learning; love is learning; all of life and existence is knowledge–fuel for the fire of my comprehensive life education. Why is this? Why do i hold the view of the entire universe as a classroom designed solely for my own personal enlightenment? Because it CAN be. Because it should fucking be. Because any moment not spent trying to better myself feels to me like a moment of life, a breath lost, a gift left unopened (or at least unused).

Why am i this way? What do i hope to get out of this? I hope to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. I hope to be the very best i can be, and know the most i can know, so that i can create the most i can create to advance the human species, and to help the most people. This is EVERYTHING. This is all that matters. Yes, it’s fucking intense. But to me, witnessing suffering in others makes it justified. I don’t understand how one can learn of the brutal rape and torture of a little girl somewhere in Asia, or the death by starvation and dehydration of a group of homeless children in Africa, or the sufferers of a natural disaster who watch their family die, or witness racism, sexism, homophobia, and the infinite crippling ignorances of the human race and NOT want to devote themselves to fighting this raging fire of strife and pain that burns in the world as it forever has, however futile it may be to attempt such an impossible task.

So yeah. I can be a tad intense from time to time.

But despite this intensity which largely defines the core of who i am, i enjoy life. I love life. Life is fucking incredible and amazing and awe-inspiring and beautiful and full of wonder. I want nothing more than to dive head first into the endless sea of creativity, information, and beauty of which existence is composed, and to then share that with the world until the suffering is all but gone. And we exist in a time where this is more possible than ever! Even if never fully attainable, i can never imagine doing anything else.

So when i go to a party and have a couple of drinks and dance, when i relax, masturbate, procrastinate my duties, or any other un-productive action, i attempt to extract from that experience every last iota of information and wisdom that i can draw from it. This is what makes me feel alive. It’s what makes me feel awake. And i want nothing more than to wake up and to help others awaken.

This is because when you awaken, you awaken to all the beauty, bliss, peace, wisdom, and love that is possible for our miniscule, limited spheres of consciousness to manifest and comprehend. When you awaken, you are truly happy and on the right course to spread your happiness and creativity to others.

I have long had a struggle in life with romance. My life has been a balancing act between this awesome, spiritual, wise, creative, beautiful world, and this area of life which seems “other” and separate somehow. Romance has taught me more perhaps than any other thing in my life, and i have extracted from the experience of it knowledge which, if i lived in an earlier period of human history, i might have called divine. But it remains a sort of vague mystery to me. It remains a kind of black hole of confusion, self-doubt, uncertainty, anxiety, anger, and my own suffering. Invariably, when i have engaged in some sort of romantic involvement i feel unable to devote the energy i wish to devote to my task of growth for the sake of the world. But without the romance i have invariably been inspired (sometimes by the prospect or the disappointment of the romance itself) to multiply my efforts and my energies in creativity, wisdom, knowledge, and compassion every day.

It makes me feel lonely–a strange kind of lonely–because it’s not a social loneliness; I caution to even call it emotional. This loneliness feels strangely biological. And with said loneliness, on top of the weight of my chosen life task, i am a fairly tense person. This tension means i don’t like to waste time with bullshit. The tension makes me nervous and self-conscious around just about any woman around my age. The tension is contributing to my genetic predisposition to balding, which at this point is irreversible, save expensive treatments. The rest of my senses appear to be gradually weakening as well, (which i am trying to fight through exercise to increase my strength) and i can’t imagine the tension is helping this at all. I don’t usually notice the tenseness because i usually feel emotionally pretty relaxed. But through taking an intoxicant or engaging in a profound spiritual practice or event, i feel the difference in relaxation profoundly.

And unfortunately for me, loneliness, tension, not putting up with bullshit, balding, nervousness and lack of confidence in social skills with the opposite sex, and an intense view and goals in life make one generally romantically unappealing. But is this a curse, or a gift? Is this a major life lesson? Probably, but what is the lesson meant to teach? Possibly nothing in particular–it might just be up to me to derive what meaning from it i so choose. But what meaning is the ideal one for my growth? I don’t know. Romance has felt strangely alien to me throughout my life, as has material/sensory pleasures. Am i fighting for something not meant for me?

My questions will be answered soon. Many are in the process of being answered (or i already know the answers, but have to ask the question again anyway in the hopes of finding a different answer). I hope i can meet a woman one day who embodies similar life goals and interests. I hope i can meet a woman who is day in and day out filled with a child-like energy and happiness at scholarly subjects and creative works like me. A woman who can inspire me and be inspired by me. A woman who accepts me, who i can accept likewise. A woman who isn’t so bothered by my intensity, and who instead meets it with the kind of calm i need to truly relax. I hope such a woman exists. But what i really hope is that whatever i need to grow the most and help the world the most is what will unfold for me, even if that means being lonely.

For now, i will just be lonely. But rest assured i will fucking learn from it.

The Artful Wisdom of Comedians

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Comedians seem to be more attuned with truth than any act or role in humanity. The truly good comedians possess the wisdom of the philosopher, with the kind of worldly, day-to-day understanding that no philosopher seems to fully grasp, and then, with the creativity of an artist and the confidence of an orator they present their keen and profound insights into the minutia of human existence and what they mean in an entertaining fashion. When i see the comics of Zach Weinersmith (Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal), Allie Brosh (Hyperbole and a Half), and Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes), or the cartoons of Don Hertzfeldt (Rejected Cartoons; Bitter FIlms), or watch the “fake” news of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, or listen to the stand-up of George Carlin, Louis C.K., and Mitch Hedberg, I find myself acknowledging truths of human existence that no philosopher, ritual, mythology, book, song, or piece of visual art can so well present to me. Comedians seem to connect to their audience more effectively than (for my money, anyway) any other role or profession. Now of course, comedians have their place: They should not replace literature, philosophy, religion, music, and so forth. But i find it fascinating to see their role in society today. They have never held much of a prominent role in humanity until fairly recently. Court jesters were more of mere performers, and while some philosophers, poets, mystics, and writers have come very close, never before has there simply been a label called “comedian” or “comic” which we’ve given to a person whose sole duty or service is to make people laugh. The greatest of comics (like the ones aforementioned) go well beyond this, and actually give us insights into the human experience. Comedy is truly a great art, if done effectively, and i think it may be the most starkly truth-based creation of humanity yet.
I’m not good at words, but i hope i made my point here well enough.

– J. Ibrahim Abuhamada

Prayer to Purify My Consciousness

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This is my prayer to transcend ignorance. Let all beings bear witness.
I will remove all fear, anxiety, and aversion around mere experiences.
I will not let psychological trauma, delusions, and compulsions control my life.
I will detach from the past and overcome anxiety about the future.
Instead i will have gratitude about every experience — even the undesirable.
I will let go of ego and self-concern and instead be humble, relaxed, and accepting.
I will forgive all who have transgressed me and my dear ones, and generate boundless compassion and love towards them.
I will diminish the untamed monkey-mind and adopt the rock-solid foundation of focused attention,
While also holding fast to patience in the certainty of more than enough time to live.
I will let go of over-analysis and let myself experience in the present without attachment to the experience.
I will not fear death at any level, gross or subtle.
Indeed, i know the fulfillment and meaning of life come from what i create, inspire, and how much i love.
I am perfect. Life is perfect. There is enough time and energy and resources.
There is nothing to strive for, to attain, to acquire, to experience;
There is only to be, to love, to give of myself.
This is my prayer; May its merit be dedicated to all living things.

The Nameless and the Meaning of Life

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Madhyamaka is the philosophy of the negation of all assertions. Nothing you say can be entirely true. Omnism is the acceptance of all assertions. Nothing you say can be entirely false. These are the same reality. This is the Tao. This is the transcendent nature of Brahman. It is this force, call it emptiness or God, which permeates phenomenological reality and allows for its existence. It is what stands in place of essence and allows for change, and therefore existence on this multiplicitous plane of conventional reality. This Ultimate reality in an eternal loop reifies and extends its nature into an infinite incomprehensibility. The transcendence of transcendence of Brahman, the emptiness of emptiness, the Tao of Tao: this is the Ultimate. It is why it is beyond all description, beyond name and form, beyond equal in the conventional plane.

We may wish to call this God. Or we may have negative connotations and experiences around that word, and so prefer to leave it without a name. This nameless, pan-ultimate higher reality is so self-reifying that it cannot even be said to definitively exist, nor not exist. In regards to it, we can say it is eternal and the ground of being, as with Brahman, or we may refer to it being empty and negating all being.

It is both within and beyond time and concept. It is what fills man with awe enough to bow our heads to the earth in submission and recognition of our inconsequentiality and its absolute awesomeness. It is what is behind the flowing and beautiful force of nature that some prefer to worship. It underlies every thought and perception like a canvas of canvases. It is what begs men to the mountains for lifetimes of solitude to explore within themselves, because they have seen it within, rather than without.

And it doesn’t matter where you find it, or by what name you call it. You may call it the soul or the primordial awareness or atman if you’re looking within, and if you find that, you’ve found It. If through reasoning you recognize the Absurd or the essencelessness of the ground of Being, then hold to that. If you require an image or an embodied name which gives you that sense of connection, such as a god or guru or deity, then hold to that. If it is beauty which wraps you in awe so deep that you lose yourself, then hold to that. If it is love for another person or all sentient beings, cultivate it and do not let that connection go.

The point of this undefined pan-ultimate reality experientially and phenomenologically is connection. One could say that this is what spirituality as a whole is. Embracing connection with this transcendent Other is at the same time connection with our conventional reality of names and duality. Our independent selfhood dissolves in this new reality of perfect connection to All. At least this is half of it. The other half of the experience is of a self which grows to encompass all phenomenological experience. It grows to become this new reality of the unification of the Ultimate and conventional realities. This is breaking free from conditionings and suffering insofar as they relate to our awareness of the present and our love for all things.

This is the ideal strived for by every philosopher, every mystic, every spiritual or religious person – indeed, every living thing – whether they realize it or not. It is what you and I long for when we wake up in the morning, when we go to sleep at night, when we love another, or eat ice cream, or make a bad decision, or create something beautiful, or say thank you. It is the Modus operandi of life itself. Life seeks to return to that unified, infinitely connected non-dual reality which it emanated and continues to emanate from.

As life, you must embrace the path which speaks to your sense of awesome connection and see it all the way to its glorious end. Or in the more concise words of Joseph Campbell: “Follow your bliss.”

Life is Beautiful


Life is so beautiful. For me to have ever chastised, denounced, or ignored any art, any discipline, any thought or belief, any person’s experience, any feeling or emotion, any body of knowledge, any creation whatsoever, was perhaps my most blundering act of ego and willful ignorance. I cannot ignore my humanity. I cannot ignore the great beauty of this world. In ignoring the world’s beauty, I ignore the beauty of my own mind, my own perception. The most vast wisdom is contained in the smallest of phenomena; a blade of grass or a pebble contains within it God, the Buddha, everything and nothing at the same time, and beyond — Beyond whatever my mind can possibly fathom. All conception dissolves in the ultimate, perfectly simply nature of the mere present moment. But I should not say “mere present moment,” for “mere” is an inadequate qualifier. The ultimate, the Absolute present moment, is only a little closer. Sat-Chit-Ananda perhaps comes closest.
Beauty is all around me. In my grasp, lying before my very eyes, my very mind, my very soul, is a universe which belongs to me. It is a universe of perfect beauty and truth, that I need only utilize love, happiness, and creativity to have the fullest access to. It is my universe. For me personally. I squander this most remarkable gift every day–every instant! And to go along with it is the other perfect gift, of life, which I also squander. I regret this so much, and this I vow to change.

Buddhism and Taoism


When Buddhism entered China in the early part of the first millennium CE, it easily blended with the native Taoism. There are great similarities, such as their views on non-attachment, their philosophies of the ultimate nature of reality, most of their ethics, and many of their meditation practices. The differences are mostly superficial, lying in cultural differences—things like ritual or symbols—and in positions regarding metaphysics. Thus, despite these minor dissimilarities, Buddhist philosophy is in the end categorically and fundamentally congruent with the Tao.

Buddhism and Taoism are two very unique and interesting religions which developed independently of one another around the same time in two neighboring ancient civilizations. They did not come into contact until centuries after their establishment, and their most important figures never had any knowledge or interaction with one another. Taoism began most officially with the writing of the Tao Te Ching, which provides the philosophical and textual basis of Taoism. It is from the Tao Te Ching that over the milliennia Taoist philosophers, mystics, sages, and priests constructed their rituals, symbolism, social organization, and a more easily digestible metaphysics for the common man. By contrast, Buddhism was founded upon a man and his ideas, with nothing being written down until long after his death. The Buddha himself established the monastic organization and most of the metaphysics (allegedly). The Taoist polytheism and ancestor worship are both incongruent with Buddhist metaphysics, which holds that there are no eternal beings—all beings die and are reborn—thus ancestor worship and the belief in immortal gods is seen as wrong view. There are also differences in ritual which result from these differences in metaphysical perspectives.

Despite their independent creation in two very unique cultures, Buddhism and Taoism have a great number of deeper similarities. The range of different meditation practices are quite similar. Both have practices involving the quieting of the mind, examining the mind and senses of the body, contemplating the nature of reality, and entering into unity with the Absolute. The ethical beliefs of the two religions are also quite similar. There are certain virtues such as non-attachment and honesty, which one should master in order to be considered enlightened or “a sage.” Perhaps the most significant similarity between the two religions is their core idea of moderation, or walking the middle-ground between excess and self-denial. Buddhism calls it the Middle Way, while Taoism calls it the Tao, meaning “the Way.” Both “Ways” see the extremes of seeking more than one’s basic needs and denying oneself of their needs to be the source of basically all human suffering and strife.

It’s quite a testament to the human condition to consider that these two traditions arrived at so many similarities, despite the different environments in which they arose. And not only the human condition, but also the ultimate nature of reality—the highest, most transcendent, most immanent, most mysterious reality, called the Absolute, which both traditions came to describe in remarkable depth using almost the exact same descriptors. The Tao is in no way incongruent with the Dharmakaya, emptiness, Buddha-nature, suchness, or any of the other myriad Buddhist terms for the Absolute as relating to different situations or approaches. The interaction of these two religions was within a society where religious plurality is already an accepted norm, as expressed by the old Chinese saying: Every Chinese wears a Confucian cap, a Taoist robe and Buddhist sandals.” In China it was never uncommon for people to incorporate aspects from all faiths into their spiritual lives. No rigid walls ever existed between the faiths or the people of faith, because religion was not approached in such a manner as it is in the Occident. So between such visceral similarities at the philosophical, mystical, and ethical dimensions of the two faiths, and the relations taking place in such a pluralistic society, it is no surprise that Buddhism finally became acceptable to the ancient thinking of the Tao.

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