Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Re-Framing Enlightenment

I have been thinking for a while that the concept of enlightenment is a trap. If I may quote from my own reddit comment,
Personally, I think enlightenment is a trap and should be avoided at all costs. It sets an unachievable goal, it creates division between people, and it makes them talk for hours. Oh boy, does it make them talk! On and on about all the silence and calm. Babble babble babble. Monkey mind and monkey talk, from dusk till dawn about nonduality and enlightenment.
On the other hand, I am a lot into tantra and meditation and all that fancy "spiritual" stuff. I even have some vegan yearnings, sometimes, for crying out loud!

So what to do.

I think maybe we should replace the word enlightenment with something simple, "western", that people actually know: How about the word consciousness?

One consequence of that is that things become tremendously easy to explain.

The idea is that you are not truly conscious of your thoughts as long as you identify with them. It's more like they colonize your thoughtspace, rather than you grant them their space, graciously and with joy. A mind under occupation is not a free mind.

You can only be concious of that screen in front of you because you are in some way separate from it. You can observe it.

You can do the same thing with your thoughts.

The only difference is that you can hardly identify with the screen (or so I hope), but you will naturally tend to identify with your own thoughts.

But you don't have to.

If you choose to give your mind something to focus on, to train yourself to focus. You do that by focusing on your breath, simply because it is there, it is cheap, and it has a rhythm. Nothing more to it. It takes time and dedication, but that's really it.

Of course, total consiousness, 24/7/365, is still a complete and utter illusion. You just cannot have it. But you can have a fair share, and it's gonna be legen.... wait for it.... dary!

But it might be easier to not fall for the metaphysical trap, if you use terms that actually have meaning in the real world, rather than religious mumbo-jumbo.

An Example Of The Detrimental Effects Of Religion

There is a lady. Let's call her Carina.

Carina is 75 years old. Raised an atheist by socialist parents, she converted to catholicism at 30.

A few weeks ago, she told her children about how St. Anthony, the saint in charge of lost items, helped her find her lost wedding ring. Not only that, but her minister found the keys to the sacristy, which he had misplaced during some repair work on the building, after he had prayed to St. Anthony for help.

She was absolutely serious about that story. She really thought that the saint had helped her.

Now, Carina is highly intelligent, well educated, and had a pretty straight career going as long as she was still in the work force.

Ten years ago, she might have told the same story, but in a different tone. There would have been some irony, some winking, some tongue-in-cheekness. All that is gone.

It would not be that tragic. In fact, it might be amusing. Except that, due to the family situation, Carina has a certain amount of power over her ex husband. She drags him to church and practically forces that host down his throat. Her ex husband, of course, has left the church a million years ago and never wanted anything to do with that organisation after he left it. He used to be a very strong-willed individual, stubborn even, a successful businessman. Now he's in a wheelchair after a stroke, has trouble communicating and just lacks the willpower to assert himself. His current wife plays along because she won't risk to be the troublemaker.

Would Carina do stuff like that to anyone, if it were not for religious reasons? I highly doubt it. All her life, she was in favour of tolerance, a liberal within her community, an organizer of shared services between christians, jews, hindus and buddhists, all without any attempt to proselytize.

Of course, this development is probably due to old age, at least in part. But I maintain that a lifetime of training yourself to believe in idiotic, inconsistent, counterfactual doctrines comes at a cost. I maintain that religion is the huge destroyer of empathy, the enemy of compassion.

One cannot save another's soul without harming their personality.

Marketing Fluff

I am firmly convinced that religion is pretty bad for the world.

I am radically opposed to ideological extremism.

I think discrimination is an evil that we need to eradicate.

However, all of that is trumped by marketing fluff. Marketing fluff is so poisonous it should not be touched, felt, smelt, heard, looked at by any human being. Not through a looking glass, not with 100 feet poles, not with protective clothing. It slowly seeps into your brain and disintegrates it until it becomes a pus infested mush of nonsense and idiocy.

Marketing fluff is the true motherload of truly, utterly terrible ideas.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Ghost In The Shell (2017) Movie Review

*spoilers ahead*. You have been warned. Overall, I have almost nothing good to say. It's a decent popcorn flick if you possess the ability to shut down your ghost for 90 minutes.

Let's start with the good:

The visuals are stunning, and Scarlett Johansson is, of course, a very beautiful woman.

Now for the rest:

They played it so safe that the result is a stillbirth.

The acting is abysmal. Johansson never was a lot more than a pretty face, in this flick she has one facial expression, and one only. I could live with that if it did make sense in-universe, but Major Kusanagi is most emphatically *not* a robot.

The melancholia of the 1996 anime has been replaced with melodrama in this one, caused by shitty dialog and severe overacting -- most painfully, on part of Juliette Binoche, whom I still remember as a real first-class actress with a lot of bandwidth.

The story is just a stereotypical origin story.

They lost the humanity of it.

Heck, they even lost the humor. As an example, one of the four scenes that are almost straight copies from the anime is the one on the boat, where Kusanagi and Batou bond over some beer, and banter a bit. In the anime, when the Major chnanges out of her swimsuit, Batou sneaks in a peek, then looks away, but peeks once more. It's obvious that he likes what he sees, but his relationship with Kusanagi is a mixture of friendship, comraderie and professionalism, and he's rather protective of her, so he cannot go there. It's humane, it has a touch of humor, it's something to watch again.

In the update, they play all that in complete and utter seriousness. Major: "I can't trust anyone anymore." - Batou: "You do trust me, don't you?" - Major: "Yes I do." Gnarf.

I could probably live with the above -- I'm perfectly happy just watching Scarlett Johannson be pretty.

What I cannot live with is lack of character motivation, nonsensical plot points and actions that are out of place for a character.

Aramaki would not shoot Cutter like that, vendetta style, thus exposing himself to legal action. Why would the Yakuza host a hacker? Why would it be dangerous to just be in the same room with a ghost-hacked human? Why did the trash collector have to stand during the interrogation? How could Kuse get away after being shot by four machine guns on short range? Why did Cutter remote control the spider tank in the boss battle, when it was clearly established in the anime that those machines possess AI? How on earth did Kuse even get away, after they killed 97 predecessors? How was he able to sneak back into the building? Why would Cutter allow Section 9 to go after Kuse, risking exposure for his murders, when he has all his mooks and could easily just kill him with that spider tank all the time? Why would Cutter, when he monitors his disloyal employee, monitor her in a way that would easily allow her to give the Major an antidote instead of a poison? Why would they rely on their victims taking their "medicine", so their memories remain hidden, when those victims have to come in for regular inspections anyway? And, finally, why is the Major so incredibly valuable to Section 9? She might be powerful physically, but she's basically a borderline psychotic, ticking timebomb. She completely ignores a direct order in the first scene, for crying out loud, without any consequences from a boss who is supposed to be super strict.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Help me, I'm SANE!

I've been doing some kind of tantric exercises for, I don't know, maybe 10 years or so, on and off.

Never once did I experience anything like "kundalini syndrome". No involuntary twitching, no sleeplessness, no itching, no hallucinations, no headaches, no mood-swings.

Instead, I consistently experience bliss, better confidence, more calmness, and greater sex.

Clearly, I'm doing it wrong.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Intolerant Yogis

I took a taste of attacking yogic ideas in a yoga discussion group.

It is quite interesting to see the very same reactions that christian fundamentalists would show: They interpreted the idea that was under attack in a metaphorical way to save it, they attacked the person to discourage criticism, they engaged in mind-reading and took offense at having their faith attacked.

It makes perfect sense. Every "spiritual path" is really just as dogmatic, closed to change and intellectually fragile as any other. It's not the content that matters; whenever you accept anything for religious reasons, you will tend to jump to defend it against attacks, or silently retreat from the discussion into some weird form of "tolerance". It's fight or flight. You have no way to defend your belief intellectually, therefore you have to react with anger and violence.

The virus was hidden in the way you adopted the content, not in the content itself.

Me and My Soapbox

Before you go to your war, learn empathy.

How do you learn empathy? By relaxing.

How do you relax? By being happy.

How do you be happy? By relaxing.

How do you get both? By facing yourself.

How do you face yourself? By breathing.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Peacock Pose

It's a yoga pose. It is said to burn up toxins in the body. It is also said to burn up bad karma.

Now, the first of those claims is just wrong, but at least in theory, you could try and prove it.

The second one however.... now that is just funny. How do people come up with shit like that? Even assuming you're a believer, how would one go about finding out whether this is true?

It also completely contradicts the often-claimed truism that "karma is just cause and effect". If that is the case, then how would a pose change any of that?


Friday, April 7, 2017

How Rationality Came To Nicea

I can just picture it.


Basilides: So, what we gonna do about dat damn transubstantiation thingie, huh?

Augustine: Uh, man, dunno. Call Holy Ghost Busters, maybe?

Athanasius: Come on, man. Be serious for a bit, will you? We canna bloody well have them believe jus whatever, right?

Basilides: Okay, okay. We gonna solve that sucker right now. Forever. Like, when they go, ey, christianman, tell me how dat bloody oblate thing work, we gonna tell them: Yo man, it's magic, that's what it is.

Augustine: Nah. Canna do that. They's gonna look right through it. Gotta tell them something... you know... something awesome. Some big ass shit. Like, it's da faiths, or sumthin.

Origen: Yeeeeah, that's sounds like it. Faith. Always a good thing, right. Have a little faith in me and all that shit.

Basilides: Yup.

Athanasius: But ain't they gonna say, like, that not real rational an stuff?

Origen: Yeeeah, but I already have sumthin for them says that.

Athanasius: Like what?

Basilides: Yeeah, let's fuckin hear it, man!

Origen: Simple. We gonna tell em, god is what makes them logics be logical. God da powerman of rationality. Cos god made it all, so god made da logic, too, right? No way outta that one.

Basilides: Well, yeah, but then ain't they gonna say that if god made da logics and it's all fuckin rational, why doesn't it be so rational now with the Christ being in da oblate an all? Shouldn'ta be rational then?

Origen: You ain't grokkin it man. It's fuckin brilliant. They gonna say that, alright. But we gonna answer them thusly: God is rationality. No rationality without god. But you gotta have faith in god first. Cos, well, god is rationality. So, no rationality without god.

Basilides: Okay. Now I'm impressed.

Athanasius: Gotta go pee, folks.

Augustine: It's brilliant, man. It really is. It gonna work.

Origen: Don't tell me. Born a genius. Didn't choose it for meself. It's a curse as well as a blessin you know.

Augustine: How so?

Origen: I gotta walk this valley of darkness with all you suckers to the day I die.

Athanasius (yelling from bathroom): You get to spend eternity with us too, remember?

Origen: That's what makes it so frightening.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Real Story of the Chakras

Here is an interesting article by Christopher Wallis about how the modern western concept of "chakras" came to be:

The core claim is that the currently prevailing view of the chakras, and of yoga in general, has almost nothing to do with any ancient Indian philosophy. Instead, it is an invention of western occultism of the late 19th century.

What seems to have happened is that people like John Woodroffe translated sanskrit works with little knowledge of the language and huge occultist philosophies in the back of their heads. These were then used in turn by Indian writers who believed that they were talking about actual ancient Indian sources.

According to Wallis, the main differences between the modern systems and actual ancient ideas are:

1. There’s Not Just One Chakra System in The Original Tradition, There Are Many

2. The Chakra Systems are Prescriptive, Not Descriptive

3. The Psychological States Associated with the Chakras are Completely Modern and Western

4. The Seven-Chakra System Popular Today Derives Not From a Scripture, But From a Treatise Written in 1577

5. The Purpose of a Chakra System Is to Function as a Templatefor Nyasa

6. The Seed-Mantras that You Think Go with The Chakras Actually Go with The Elements that Happen to Be Installed in those Chakras

I cannot possibly decide whether there is any truth to that or not. It fits nicely with my personal predilections, and I would be interested to learn more. I put it out there for others to either support or refute.

One thing is for sure: It adds a nice little additional twist to all those right-wing christian warnings about yoga being an ancient demonic force that will insta-turn you into a Hindu...

Monday, March 20, 2017

Defining "Practical Tantra"

This is my second attempt to describe what I mean when I say "tantra". (You can read the first one here.)

Of course, every such attempt is just a very provisional effort. There is always more to explore. But this should give you a good place to start.

First, let me narrow down the term:

Tantra actually DOES include all the religious zealotry, the esoteric nonsense, the blatant prostitution, and the commercialisation that you might imagine. After all, there is no such thing as a tantra police, and everybody is free to do whatever they wish and call it tantra. (There is also, I'm fairly certain, every kind of abuse going on in tantric cults, and even in weekend courses. Always be safe! Just saying.)

I will call my special flavor of it "practical secular tantra" in order to distinguish it from other approaches. That's not a very cool or specific name, (in fact, I just made it up on the spot right now) but for this posting, it will suffice.

My approach is distinctly non-spiritual and rooted in western skepticism, but it does not reduce tantra to a mere sex enhancement technique either.

Now, the tag line version:

This is the very shortest definition I can come up with.

"Practical secular tantra" is a method to deepen your capacity for pleasure, in the most sensual way possible, in order to make you a happier, and thus a better person.


Next, there is the executive summary:

This is slightly longer, but, in my opinion, slightly more useful.

"Practical secular tantra" is a tool of personal development. It works by nourishing and harnessing your own sexual energy. That energy will then help you integrate body and mind better. The goal is to achieve more harmony, more inner peace. Ultimately, you might become a better person. Plus, of course, better orgasms and more fun every single day of your life.

Finally, let's break all of that down, sentence by sentence:


"Practical secular tantra" is a tool of personal development.

The tantric experience, like any other meditative technique worthy of the name, can help you become a little more relaxed, take things not quite so seriously, and more importantly, stop being such a ginormous egocentric pile of douchebaggery.

It works by nourishing and harnessing your own sexual energy.

Okay, you knew that it was about sex -- I mean, duuuh, right. In tantra, sexual energy is seen as the central life-force. If you connect with that and learn to let it flow through you, that experience can wholly transform you, and can turn your whole life from the head (the way it is now) back on its feet (the way it is meant to be).

This part is where most of the practical exercises have their place: Breathing, clenching muscles, visualisation, all in the service of recognizing, and then directing, your energy.

(This is also where all the mumbo-jumbo comes in: Chakras, mystical energy fields, "subtle bodies", the kundalini and its frights and terrors, dire warnings against going too fast, and so on and so forth.)

One important aspect of that is to let go of the immediate goal of orgasm, and to learn how to stay in the present moment even in the presence of sexual arousal.

There is a strong tendency to reduce sex to a race towards a goal. This not only makes sex way less joyful and free than it can be, but it also strips us of great opportunities to practice mindfulness.

You cannot feel that energy moving in your body, as long as your focus is on cumming. It's as if you were on a trip all around Europe, and you tried to take in the very beautiful scenery of Tuscany, but at the same time, you were already planning what to do the next day in Vienna. And then, Salzburg the day after that. It does not work.

The more you re-learn that presence of mind, the more you can enjoy sex. Plus, you become a better lover.

That energy will then help you integrate body and mind better.

It's a fairly simple thing, once you think about it: If you feel great, and sexy, and strong, and at peace, then you have more energy to really listen to your body. You will probably find more time for what really matters, too. That MIGHT mean, for example, that there simply is no need for that cigarette, or that chocolate bar. Without even trying...

The caveat: This is not a given. You cannot "use tantra to give up that porn addiction". It is only one more tool in your box. It will help you with some goals. It will completely fail at others.

The goal is to achieve more harmony, more inner peace.

Tantra is not primarily about better sex. Better sex is one important aspect, of course, and it comes quite naturally the more you learn to let go of the goal of orgasm. You learn to "ride the wave", and you experience incredible bliss. And then, after that, there is this whole inner universe of pleasure, and what's more: a kind of depth of experience. The universe, outside as well as inside, becomes ever deeper, more open, more intense.

Ultimately, you might become a better person. Plus, of course, better orgasms and more fun every single day of your life.

Here is a piece of my personal ideology: If we want more peace on earth, what we need is happy people.

Happy people don't wage wars. Happy people don't beat their spouses. Happy people don't feel the need to one-up you. Happy people can calmly get the job done without drama.

To become better human beings, we should not focus on perfect adherence to specific morals, on never crossing any lines. We should practice our pleasure: totally experiencing our inner and outer being, becoming one with ourselves. (That is the most esoteric you'll hear from me, I promise.)

That is precisely what tantra does: It deepens your capacity for pleasure, in the most sensual way possible.

(Please stand by for the next posting: Exercises of practical secular tantra.)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Pleasure of Witnessing a Master Teacher

A few days ago, I had the absolute pleasure of witnessing a chess player teach his art to a young boy.

There was absolutely nothing patronizing about his attitude. He didn't talk down to the boy. He never corrected him. He did not care one bit about winning. In fact, when he saw a good move, he was genuinely thrilled about where that might lead the game.

When the boy made a move that was probably dubious, the man would say "Interesting choice. Now, let's figure out what might happen next. I might do this, and then this, and then this... So, let's figure out together how you could position your pieces even better?"

It was not like they were playing a game against each other, but just having fun together over their game.

It was truly inspiring, and the boy seemed to absolutely love every single bit of it. I would like to see way more things like that!

Trump ignoring a journalist

The link is to a video where Trump ignores a CNN reporter because "your organisation is bad".

Here's what I would really like to see:

The next time Trump ignores a journalist like that, the next journalist he turns to should simply repeat the question of the first journalist. And then the next. And the next. Until he answers the question.

That would be so rewarding to watch!

Here's a link to the reddit list of Trump calling media "fake news" or similar: