Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Lankavatara Sutra

The Lankavatara Sutra is a Mahayana Buddhist scripture that dates from the fourth century CE. The author (or authors) is (are) unknown. The text was originally written in Sanskrit and produced in India. The first Chinese translation was completed in 430 CE, and the second in 443.1 The second Chinese translation is probably the one given by Boddhidarma (c. 470-543), the first Chinese patriarch of Zen, to his student, Hui-k’o (487-593), the second Chinese patriarch of Zen. The sutra thus had an important influence on the development of Zen Buddhism, as well as on the development of other forms of Mahayana Buddhism in China, Japan, Tibet, and Nepal.
      The Lanka consists of nine chapters of prose and poetry, and an additional chapter, called “Sagathakam” (which means “the one with verses”2), consisting entirely of poetry. The title, “Lankavatara Sutra,” may be translated as “Sutra of the Descent into Lanka” or "Sutra of the Entering into Lanka.”3 The setting of the text is the mythological city of Lanka, site of the castle of Ravana, king of the nature spirits and sea serpents. At an assembly of bhikkhus (monks) and bodhisattvas (enlightened beings), Buddha answers a series of questions posed to him by the bodhisattva Mahamati.
      Throughout their dialogue, Mahamati humbly and respectfully addresses Buddha by his various honorific titles, such as Bhagava (“Blessed One”), Tathagata (“Thus Gone One”), Sugata (“Well Gone One”), Arhat ("Holy One"), Maitreya (“Compassionate One”), and Samyaksambuddha (“Fully Enlightened One”). Buddha responds kindly and patiently to each of Mahamati’s questions, and answers them successively in a very direct, thorough, and systematic way.
      According to Buddha’s teachings in the sutra, all things are devoid of self-nature or self-substance (svabhava), insofar as they are not self-caused or self-existent. All things are unborn, because they are not born of themselves; they are born of causation.4 All things are empty of self-nature or self-existence, because their nature or existence is not inherent or self-caused; it depends on causes and conditions other than themselves.
      Self-nature is merely a thought construction (vijnapti). The ego, individual soul, or personal self (atman) is also merely a thought construction. Indeed, the ego or personal self is merely an illusion (maya). Absence of self-nature (or egolessness) is the true nature of all things. Truth (satya) is to be found in emptiness (shunyata), egolessness (anatman), suffering (dukkha), and impermanence (anitya).
      When things are falsely seen as having their own self-nature, wrong discriminations are made among them. Discrimination (vikalpa) arises from attachment (abhinivesa) to the notion that things can be differentiated according to their own self-nature, and that they can therefore be categorized according to their being or nonbeing, existence or nonexistence, individuality or generality.
      When the world is understood to be nothing but mind (chitta), false distinctions among things are no longer clung to. When the egolessness of all things is recognized, wrong discriminations are no longer made. When there is perfect knowledge (parinishpanna), there is no longer discrimination regarding the various appearances of things, and the world is understood to be mind-only (chittamatra).
       Ignorance (avidya) consists in attachment to distinctions among things. Ignorance also consists in attachment to dualistic notions of being (sat) and nonbeing (asat), self (atman) and non-self (anatman), individuality (avalakshana) and generality (samanyalakshana), unity (ekata) and multiplicity (bahulya), sameness (samata) and otherness (anyatya), cessation (nirodha) and continuation (prabandha). In order to see things as they truly are, we must avoid dualistic thinking, and we must remain within the realm of non-discrimination (avilkalpa). When mind-only (chittamatra) is understood to be the true nature of things, discrimination is abandoned.5 Non-discrimination is a state of understanding the non-duality (advaya) of mind-only.
      Insofar as all things depend on causes and conditions of existence, they have no self-nature, and they do not exist inherently. They are devoid of self-existence. All things are empty (shunya), unborn (anutpanna), non-dual (advaita), and without self-nature (nihsvabhava).6 Things are not born of themselves; they are without self-nature, and thus they are in a constant state of becoming.7
      Emptiness itself is devoid of self-existence, and has no self-nature. Thus, it transcends both eternalism (sasvatavada) and nihilism (ucchedavada). Eternalism may be described as the theory that all things are eternal and unchanging, and that there is an eternal and unchanging self. Nihilism may be described as the theory that nothing is eternal and unchanging, and that there is no eternal and unchanging self. Eternalism may also be described as the theory that things exist eternally, while nihilism may be described as the theory that nothing exists at all. Emptiness transcends such dualistic concepts, and is the true nature of things. Thus, it is the middle way (madhyama) between eternalism and nihilism. When things are seen as empty, they are recognized in their suchness (tathata).8
      To be enlightened is to be free of such concepts as being (sat) and nonbeing (asat), existence (bhava) and non-existence (abhava), permanence (nitva) and impermanence (anitya), eternity (nityata) and non-eternity (anityata). Being and nonbeing, individuality and generality, and sameness and otherness cannot rightly be predicated of things. When such concepts are abandoned, egolessness (anatman) is attained. The appearance of difference between being and nonbeing is actually a result of maya (illusion).
      The Enlightened One does not engage in dualistic thinking, and is able to comprehend the truth of mind-only (the truth that the external world is only a manifestation of mind). Buddhahood transcends discursive reasoning and attachment to the external appearances of things. Perfect knowledge is the essence of the Tathagata-garbha9 (the womb of Buddhahood, and the place in which Buddhahood is conceived, nurtured, and matured10). The Tathagata-garbha is emptiness, non-attachment, non-discrimination, and nirvana.


FOOTNOTES

1Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, Studies in The Lankavatara Sutra [1930], (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1999, p. 4.
2Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, The Lankavatara Sutra: A Mahayana Text, translated for the first time from the original Sanskrit (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1932), p.xliv.
3Suzuki, Studies in The Lankavatara Sutra, p. 3.
4The Lankavatara Sutra, p. 132.
5Ibid., p. 254.        
6Ibid., p. 65.
7Ibid., p. 67.
8Suzuki, Studies in The Lankavatara Sutra, p. 446.
9The Lankavatara Sutra, p. 60.
10Suzuki, Studies in The Lankavatara Sutra, p. 405.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Stigmas as Signs of Social Rejection

What are social stigmas, and what is the meaning of being stigmatized? Being stigmatized may mean being shunned, being avoided, being viewed as loathsome or repugnant, being treated as an outcast, and being seen as shameful or disgraceful. It may also mean being considered unrespectable and disreputable, and being viewed as morally deficient or socially inferior.
      Being stigmatized may also mean being seen as flawed or blemished, and being labeled as faulty or defective in some way.
      To stigmatize someone or something may be to inflict that person or thing with a stigma (a sign of reproach or disapproval). A stigma may be a sign of rejection, a mark of disfavor, or a symbol of disgrace.
       Stigmatization may involve the branding, writing, or inscription of a stigma on the identity of the stigmatized. It may also involve the assignment of a lower social status to stigmatized individuals or groups.
      Stigmatized people may sometimes be regarded as if they were grotesque, strange, odd, or freakish. They may be made objects of derision or ridicule. They may also be made to feel unwanted, and may be made to feel as if they have no place in, and do not belong to, society.
      Stigmatized people may be targeted for social rejection, and thus may become victims of prejudice and discrimination. They may be made to feel unclean, tainted, contaminated, and untouchable. The stigma may be seen as a stain or blot on their moral character. They may be regarded as objects of curiosity, contempt, revulsion, or disgust. They may also be treated as if they were sinful, debased, subhuman, or uncivilized.
      To be stigmatized may be to be temporarily or permanently excluded from participation in society. It may also in some cases be to suffer from a kind of discredit and disrepute that no effort on the part of the stigmatized individual can overcome.
      Stigmatized people may be subjected to hate speech, taunts, and verbal abuse that may destroy their sense of self-worth and self-esteem. They may be forced to endure harassment, threats, and intimidation.
      Physical conditions for which people may be unfairly stigmatized include physical disabilities (such as limb amputations, contractures, tremors, and paralysis), speech disabilities (such as dysarthria, articulation disorders, vocal tics, and stuttering), physical deformities (such as facial, spine, and limb deformities), genetic disorders, infectious diseases (such as leprosy, herpes, and HIV), skin conditions (such as acne, psoriasis, surgical or burn scars, birthmarks, vitiligo, neurofibromatosis, skin ulcers, and skin cancer), and other conditions (such as tall or short stature, baldness, impotence, overweight, blindness, and deafness).
      Mental conditions for which people may be unfairly stigmatized include intellectual, developmental, and learning disabilities, and mental illnesses (such as schizophrenia and bipolar depression).
      Social conditions for which people may be unfairly stigmatized include poverty, homelessness, joblessness, drug or alcohol addiction, and previous criminal record.
      People may be unfairly stigmatized because of their race, ethnicity, age, gender, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation. They may also be unfairly stigmatized because they have family members who have been unfairly stigmatized or because they belong to social groups that have been unfairly stigmatized..
      Examples of social, racial, or ethnic groups that have been unfairly stigmatized include disabled people, poor people, refugees, immigrants, gays, lesbians, transgender people, blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, Jews, Muslims, Arabs, Palestinians, Haitians, Romani, Dalits, Biharis, Yazidis, Hazaras, and Rohingyas.
      Consequences of being socially stigmatized include loss of educational opportunities, loss of employment opportunities, loss of housing opportunities, loss of insurance benefits, rejection of loan applications, rejection of license applications, rejection of various kinds of membership applications, and loss of other social privileges that have ordinarily been granted to others with similar abilities and qualifications.
      Social stigmas may vary in the degree to which they are internalized or externalized by their bearers. They may also vary in the extent to which they can be disguised or concealed by their bearers. Some social stigmas may be easier to disguise or conceal than others.
      Motives for stigmatizers to stigmatize others may include: (1) to promote their own sense of self-worth and self-esteem, (2) to reinforce their own position of social advantage and privilege in relation to the stigmatized, (3) to strengthen their own position of power over the stigmatized, (4) to better their own social position, by excluding the stigmatized from social, educational, and employment opportunities, (5) to respond to the perceived threat to their own privileged status that is represented by the aptitudes and abilities of the stigmatized, (6) to promote their own prejudices about the stigmatized, (7) to avoid having to learn anything about the stigmatized or having to try to see things from their standpoint, and (8) to facilitate their own cognitive biases (such as the confirmation bias of considering and relying only on information that confirms their already held beliefs, and the framing bias of selecting only those frames of reference that tend to confirm their already held beliefs.)
      Remedies for social stigmas include: (1) recognition of the unfairness of many social stigmas, (2) recognition of the pervasiveness of many kinds of stigmas in contemporary society, (3) recognition of the arbitrariness and lack of justification of many social stigmas, (4) disregard or challenge of various social stigmas, and (5) confrontation of those who try to promote their own advantage by stigmatizing others.


REFERENCES

Erving Goffman, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1963).

Edward E. Jones, Amerigo Farina, Albert H. Hastorf, Hazel Markus, Dale T. Miller, and Robert A. Scott, Social Stigma: The Psychology of Marked Relationships (New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1984).

Stigma and Group Inequality: Social Psychological Perspectives, edited by Shana Levin and Colette Van Laar (Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006).

Stigma and Mental Illness, edited by Paul Jay Fink and Allan Tasman (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press, 1992).

The Social Psychology of Stigma, edited by Todd F. Heatherton, Robert E. Kleck, Michelle R. Hebl, and Jay G. Hull (New York: The Guilford Press, 2000).



Destination Infinity

I once knew a man
who could put words
into images,
and images into words.
He had a glass box
full of ants that he studied.
Music was playing,
and he was dancing,
but his dancing was more like twitching.
His twitching was in time to the music.
He was losing the images in his head.
And he struggled over whether or not
the ants
should be experimented upon.
Then the box was smashed,
and the ants were everywhere.
He felt they were inside him,
and he stuck his tongue out rhythmically,
so they could come out.

He told me
about Alpha Centauri and the Aquarian.
He told me 
how far the earth is from the sun.
He said,
“You have to move your body to the funk. “
He could talk without moving his mouth.
There is a world of sound.
There is a world of vision.
Sometimes the worlds come together.

His glasses had two-way mirrors
so that when he looked out,
he looked into himself.
He represented a collision
between matter and anti-matter.
There was too much energy
to be measured in candle-power.
He made me ask myself,
“When a rocket
accelerates through the atmosphere,
what determines the boost factor?”

When he talked,
he  created an electrical storm.
When he cried,
his words were raining.
The storm windows
were smashed, and
the power lines were down.
The cables were swinging
into epileptic outcry.
He gazed upward,
and looked
at the burning holes in the sky.
A bat was hanging on a wire.
The unconscious became conscious
with the smell of noseblood.

He taught me
how to see people coming out of the shadows.
They were doing a new dance routine.
They tried new top hats on.
Their melancholy
could not be measured with a light meter.
Their faces were expressionless,
and they couldn’t feel anything.
They were practiced
in the art of the poseur.
They said that everything
was a copy of something else.
They were on a platform,
and the floor was tilted.
The shoes of those that passed by
were all I could see.
I could see no higher.

He asked me,
“What world do you want to live in?”
The world of lasers and starships?
The world of clouds,
where you float in the sky?
The world of water,
where your boat is tossed
gently by the wind?”

I said to him,
“Are you talking about
the present or the past?”
But he answered,
“When you finally get ready to act,
it will already be too late.
Your life will be over.
Your time will have passed.
The nuclear rockets
and the guided missiles
will already have been here.
The thunderclouds
will have broken.
The next man to be killed
by another man
will already have died.
Today’s newspaper
will already be old news.
Tea will have been served.
What you thought about yesterday
will not be done tomorrow."

So he climbed a rope
to contemplate his theosophy.
I couldn’t follow,
because I wasn’t skilled enough.
“What is the reverse of God?” 
he asked.
“Maybe the reverse of God is God,”
I said.
But then I thought,
“Isn’t there a presence in absence,
and an absence in presence?
Isn’t there a disorder in order,
and an order in disorder?
Doesn’t the absence of meaning
mean something?”
The meaninglessness of something
may be defined 
by what gives meaning 
to everything."

I went places with him,
wanting to find out who I was.
But my rainbow break was shorted out.
I couldn’t hang it on a gliding board.
I knew where I was going,
but not where I’d come from.
Australopithecus was picking his teeth
on the bones of my ancestors. 
I went to a graveyard
and slept with the dead.
The tenth book of tombs
had been written
before I entered in.
I looked around
at the gravestones.
The aurora was following 
the midnight sun.
The land had footprints on it.
It had been lived on.

I lay down on the earth,
and had visions.
A man with a trumpet was playing jazz.
A nightmare was sitting next to him.
The nightmare was a man
whose face couldn’t’ be seen
because of his hat.
He was wearing a trench coat,
and had pockets of blue.
He spoke through an alto saxophone
that did not need to be translated.

I found myself in a bedroom,
looking at a chest with brass handles
that had a mirror over it.
A magus was hiding in the back drawer.
His kidneys weren’t functioning properly.
He had endured many tests
on his kidney function,
and he didn’t want to be tested anymore.
I lifted him out of the drawer,
and we went downstairs to the backyard.
He’d invited people over for a cricket match
that he didn’t want to attend.
People were standing about silently,
waiting for him to show up.
There were gate crashers
whose attire clashed with the others.
Garden parties were out of season.
The art of mime was in rehearsal.
The rain from yesterday
left tears on a jonquil.

I had to learn more
from the man who’d told me
about the present and the past.
He told me about life and death.
He said, “I’ve already had my death.
This is the afterlife.
So anything in death,
I’ll have lived as life.
I’m one of the living dead.
What’s been given birth
will have death and rebirth.
And what is, will always have being.
As long as I have life, I’ll know death.
And what I know of those who have life,
I can know of those who are dead.
I can learn to know those who are dead,
just as I can learn to know
those who have life.
To be one with life is to know death.
But to commit oneself to death
is no longer to know life.
What I can say to the living,
I cannot say to the dead.
And what I’m concerned with
is not death, but life.”

He took me walking on a rock.
He told me the planet was dividing.
The rock was split
by a force moving.
All movement was faceted.
Anything that could fly
had struts in its wings.
The trees were bare, and
blood was spattered across a black sky.
I saw his fingers stretching out
in a network over the scorched earth.
Thousands of locusts
were coming in and out of the invisible.
We went into a house
where we met an old man.
He opened a closet door,
and there were incredibly dirty rags inside.
Spiders were regimented
into an attack force.
We went into the closet
and my friend asked the old man
to let him sit in the electric chair.
The clamps were placed on his skull,
and the message was transmitted.
An array of cubes over his head
was organized spatially
to generate controlled acoustics.
The walls of the closet fell away.
We were standing on a glass floor
as vast as a convention center.
There were prisms sliding back and forth
across the axis in which he stood.
He was in an arcade of spheres
that was orbiting over his head.
Whorls of dim stars
signaled him
like sidelights on a marquee.
Pulsars and quasars
were contracted into him.
Searchlights were swinging
in arcs of increasing complexity.
We walked to the edge of the platform.
We stepped down and walked to a door.
The door opened to a small dumbwaiter
and he climbed in.

There was a smell of garbage inside.
His vision was iridescent,
and he saw infrareds he’d never seen before.
The birth image he had
was of being born in a walnut.
It was burning,
and some of the ashes
were clinging together and crawling away.
He moved over,
and I got into the dumbwaiter.
We crawled down a tunnel
and came onto a stone floor.
There were vertical steps
projected out of a wall onto a parapet.
It was sunset,
and the clouds were ascending.
Someone was coming toward us,
and we couldn’t tell
if it was a man or a woman.

We climbed upward
and found ourselves 
in a city at midnight.
Thousands of kilowatts 
had been snuffed out.
Mortuaries were brighter places.
The street we were on
was a corridor
that led toward an edifice.
The lines that were drawn
were demanding a definite conclusion.
In front of us, 
a man stood next to the monolith
that stood at the end of the street.
The inscriptions on the obelisk
told of something that was unknowable.
The man had a visor over his head,
and inside his helmet nothing could be seen,
no features were visible.
He had a creed that was one for all places.
It was really calendar-gone.

I asked the man
who told me 
about the present and the past
if there is light 
that doesn’t produce light.
Is there light 
that doesn’t travel through space,
and that travels only into itself?
Can there be light
that doesn’t have 
the physical properties of light?
Somewhere there is someone
who has such a beam of light.
    
He tried to tell me what the bottomless was.
The place where there is no light.
The bottom of the soul.
The bottom of the world.
The abyss without a bottom.
The bottomless underbelly of endlessness.
The beginning of the bottomless emptiness.
I could not come up from the bottom.
     
We walked around the city.
It was dawn.
A new day was coming.
A wino was standing on a street corner.
He could see train wrecks,
and was on a bender
that was rocking his mind.
He just let the scotch
run ‘round his mouth,
and said he could do
the mashed potato.
He had a friend named Shortwave
who was into mainlining.
She said she wanted
to cut us some smack,
give us a taste
of what
would rock our minds.
Let us see a backdoor man
playin’ a funky blues piano.
Even if he could see,
and we were all blind.
     
We came to an iron works.
A furnace was burning.
Clouds of ash
brought the hydrocarbons
that were making the rain fall.
Axes to grind
came from the blacksmith.
He swung his blade against a wall,
and plaster chips fell away.
The fathom riot
of his drunken speeches
founded a liberal paganism.
     
Miscreants were throwing
rolls of toilet paper
into the street.
We talked with a poet
who wrote
about what they were doing.

She took us to a printing house.
The assistant editor 
was reading a manuscript,
and was asking, 
"What are the ambiguities?"
The apogee of the grammarian
was his triumph
over sentence structure.
The psoriatic stenographer
put camphor on his wounds. 

There were amazing 
structural possibilities.
Shamans were talking to ex-bankers.
The cause that men died for
was given the once-over
by a brilliant ideologue.
Band-aids were made ready
by professional pundits.
The bunions of the Manicheans
foretold concepts of destiny.
     
I told the man who’d told me
about life and death
about a dream that I had.
It was a dream
about faces of people
I’d never seen.
People with no faces
were talking to me.
I looked into a mirror,
and saw that I had a face.
In fact, it was inescapable.
But each day
that I looked into the mirror,
I saw that I was losing
more and more of my face.
I became one of the faceless.
I no longer had a face,
and there were no more faces.
I couldn’t remember my name.
I couldn’t remember who I was.
I walked along the street,
and saw other faceless people.
We were all faceless people.
I knew the only way
I could regain my identity
was by remembering
that I’d once had a face.
I did things
that weren’t approved of
by the faceless people
but they couldn’t show me
their disapproval
in a way that would change me,
because I couldn’t see their faces.
I saw that the only way
to regain my identity
was to express myself,
to care for others,
to love and share
with even those
who’d been faceless to me.
And the more I was able to do this,
the more I saw
that I was regaining my face.
And then I was able
to give faces to other people,
who, in turn, were able
to give faces to others.
And then
there were no more faceless people.
     
We met a little boy
who wore spectacles
and had dirty smudges on his nose.
He was in a sheet,
playing a ghost story.
He held a clock book in his hand,
and asked me what was in it.
There were suns inside the sun.
He opened his mouth,
and it was the sun talking.
He asked me
how long I could look at the sun.
     
I walked to school,
and went to class,
trying to find out
which class I belonged in.
I didn’t belong in History.
I didn’t belong in Math.
I didn’t belong in English Lit.
I ended up waiting in the hall
until all the classes were over,
and then I went into each one,
and apologized for not being there.
     
The wind was blowing
a stack of papers away.
I was trying to run
and catch hold 
of each sheet of paper,
but I couldn’t catch them,
and they were all blowing away.
I knew that each sheet of paper
that I couldn’t find
would be a part of my mind
that was lost.
     
I walked into a seminar 
on existential psychology.
The instructor lectured
on the history of ideas.
Besides politics, her interests
included psychiatry
and the philosophy of rationalism.
She said that the course of history
was changed by logic.
There were no inner truths
to be marsupialized.
I asked myself whether it’s logical
to say there are no inner truths.
Isn’t it better
to labor under the illusion
that there are basic truths?
To say that there are no basic truths
is to try to state a basic truth.
     
She let me visit her apartment.
In her living room,
she'd painted clouds on the walls.
She'd been doing cartwheels
in a photographer’s dream.
She opened her pocketbook
and showed me a picture
of a blind man with dark glasses.
“He used to be my lover,” she said.
She took a mirror out of her pocketbook.
“We are all mirrors for each other,” she said.
“I’d rather be my own mirror,” I thought.
     
We went riding in a sedan.
We arrived at an estate.
I talked to the motorman.
He sat with his legs crossed.
He’d been to the petrified forest.
His white jersey was freshly laundered.
He described accidents
for which he’d written a tone poem.
Collisions of belief.
Thrusts on the brake pedal of his hostility.
The kindly
wicker basket carrying lady
of the black shroud
at the estate had requested
letters of introduction
to his great-aunt.
She served spaghetti
in an uncontrollably
steamy deep dish
that hardly demanded
any inquiry
as to what
it was laden with.
Her masseuse had showered her
with a sense of longing for former protégés.
Her rusted carriage
was a silhouette of afterthought.
Her smile was simple and uncalculated.
She was in love with the motorman.
     
We came to the sea,
and walked on the beach.
Our feet were wet.
Lights were glowing in our eyes.
My eyes were like headlights.
The philosopher who was with us
had taken so many tranquilizers
that his face was numb.
The griots were far away.
They had asked for a day’s journey
to the place from which reasons
for unreason come.
The rational man
had observed that patterns
always intersected each other,
so that the conclusions
that could be drawn from one plane
could be drawn from another.
But the philosopher said
that to find the answer
for anything,
you had to enter
the realm of the imagination.
He said the only drugs
he took were freebies.
His only drug was experience.
He said,
“Where the known becomes unknown,
that is where I begin.”
     
We were in a place
where all the colors
were reds and yellows.
The sky was yellow.
The water and earth
were red.
I was dark red,
and my eyes were yellow.
There were only two colors.
We didn’t have bodies.
We only had forms.
All concepts were two-dimensional.
There were only two planes in space.
If you walked through a door,
you walked
into the plane the door was in.
You always walked in the same plane.
     
We walked into the other plane again,
where we had bodies
and were not just forms
but were human beings.
We were with many others.
Everyone was naked.
We were all naked.
There was no thought
of hiding or concealing
anything from one another.
We didn’t have to touch one another.
We all accepted our nakedness.
There was something impenetrable
that proposed our honesty
to one another.
The fact of our nakedness.
We talked and accepted our bodies.
No one belonged to anyone else.
Every individual
was accepted as a human being.
     
I asked, “What is the meaning of our nakedness?
When you're naked,
is anything changed in your identity?
Do you become a different person?
Maybe the more naked you are,
the more that others know about you.
But if your nakedness is known,
what control do you have
over what others know about you?
Do you lose something
of yourself perhaps,
when others 
know your nakedness?
When is it good
to want to make yourself
naked in front of others?
There’s no way of taking back
your nakedness,
once it’s known.
But if you're naked,
maybe the more naked you are,
the more you know yourself?"
     
We walked
into another part of the city
that was in ruins.
Architects were trying to reconstruct it.
Wrecking crews were deciding
in what way it would be a finished product.
The remnants of a lost deity
were collected for description.
The people that were there
piled stones to their creator.
The Myrmidons
that bent their backs to an overlord
were summoned by an aged paraclete.
Everyone had found out
how to put the fragments together.
The thorn brake of ontology
was broken by one mind redivivus.
     
I gave cards to all the people in the street.
I wanted them to know
where I was to be buried.
The tombstone sank into the earth
deeper in February.
Alabaster columns
were in front of all our tombs.
I wanted to talk to the funeral director.
He felt that a casket should rise
and expand after it is closed,
like a French crescent roll.
I went to a funeral.
There was a graveyard for crucifixes,
but not for the dead.
There was a hearse that had
beaming headlights
and was a radiant black
and had curtains in the windows
that looked like white icing.
But I started to smell an old smell,
and I told myself,
“I have to get out of here 
as soon as I can.”
     
We came to a sacred place.
It had been erected from rocks
that had fallen out of the sky
from another planet.
The coloratura of divinity
outdistanced all thoughts of being.
The parson’s testimony
was mostly not taken.
His findings were inconclusive.
The answer that he found
measured zero on the Richter scale.
He didn’t know whether God was dead.
He lectured on the meaning of faith.
The evangelist had a marble in his mouth.
The heaven that was browsed upon by agnostics
was condensed into a tin can.
But the parson didn’t know
that they couldn’t be taught
how to run quickly.
Meridians of varying densities
were what they exalted.
His only remonstrance
was the subject of a baccalaureate.
He told us that answers were being given
by people with no questions.
The nature of divination
was characteristically arcane.
By way of metaphor,
he turned from cerebration
to seminars on how to cope.
Basic mechanics
were as necessary as grocery shopping.
     
We sang the Agnus Dei
and the Sursum Corda.
The life ever after,
and the resurrection.
The dogs were dead.
The curses of caves
were echoed with songs of faith.
The strumpet put on the mitre
of the archbishop.
Her labors brought her
to an altered epiphany.
The beauty of her ugliness.
The ugliness of her beauty.
     
I asked the parson about his sermon.
“If everything living were dead,
would there still be God?
If God is what has created life,
and there were no more life,
would there still be God?
Is God being?
Is God meaning? 
Is God a condition?
Is God a state of mind?
Is God the creator?
Is God in the past or present?
What does being closer to God mean?
Why do some people think
they're closer to God than others?
Who can tell someone else
what God is? 
If I ask whether this is God,
is that the same
as asking whether there is life?
If there is life,
does that mean there is God?”
     
I asked whether there is a point
at which life starts
in the physical structure of things.
Is there something mystical called life,
other than what is defined
by the physical structure of things?
Is there a point
at which an object in itself
becomes a living thing?
And who can define that point?
And why that point
and not another?

The man who had told me
about life and death
asked me if I had found out
where to start to look for life.
I said,
 “When I’ve found what I’m looking for,
I’m not sure I’ll know I’ve found it.
Because I’m involved in
a struggle with death.
Yes, I’ve seen death.
But I can’t hold death in my hands.
I can’t really know
what I’m struggling with.
When I’ve found
that I’ve lost the struggle for life,
death will already have taken that life.
I’ll have nothing to struggle for.
I want to find out
if whatever has lived will always have life.”

Time was traveling incredibly fast.
The frequency of radio waves
was all I could hear.
My brain waves
had become only alpha activity.
I was lost in heat, light, density,
time, space, numbers of events.
There was a new day,
and the time was coming.

I lived in a prehistoric forest
with an old man,
and we made a soup
with crushed plants.
The water we used
was heavy water.
The old man tested it
with a strip of litmus paper.
The litmus turned a color
that wasn’t defined by acid-base.
The old man drank,
and he was at the dawn of life.
He sharpened a stone
that he used to make a fire.
His invention was tested
on a frictionless wheel.
It was a time
when humankind
had not yet started
its history on the earth.
There were mud skulls on the ground
that had real teeth.
The eyes in the skulls were watching us.
The old man had a book
that was filled with recipes for truth.
The halo that surrounded his head
gave me a migraine.
He rededicated his parsimony
with an aspirin.

The outside of my brain was burning.
It was burning
between the pia mater and dura mater.
There was no ectoplasm or endoplasm.
There was no white matter or gray matter.

I felt as if I could do anything.
I could make myself invisible,
disintegrate matter
and reconstitute myself.
The flash uncoiled a spring
of orgasmic feeling.
I felt that if I were the dealer,
I could throw down.
I went to the school of mother wit.
I did improvisational dance steps
to boring speeches.
I grew images in a bouquet of flowers.
I copied mathematical equations
and subscribed to a philosophy of poverty.
I lived in a tree for twenty-three years,
and grew very dry.
I was an aesthete,
fascinated by denying myself macaroons.
I knelt on the floor of a cave,
and played marbles
with the stones on the floor.
I let vultures pick at my liver.
I denied that there was any such thing
as the thing in itself.
Destination zero.
The beginning and the end.
And death infinity could not do me in.

I asked myself,
“What impulses do I want to control,
and what do I not want to control?
What impulses do I have?
If I controlled every impulse,
what would I have left?
Where would my impulses take me,
into a method or a lack of it?”

I was in a world
where smells, tastes, sounds,
images, and sensations
were all interchanged.
I could feel colors
and see sounds.
I could see
whatever colors I wanted.
I couldn’t shut
any doors of perception
without opening others.

We played with gyroscopes and radiometers.
The concepts of quantum physics
were totally within our understanding.
All computers were constructed 
in the image of Man.

Dirigibles collided in the air.
It was the earth that was moving,
and the sky that stood still.
The farmer opened his almanac.
He said, “If you’re not watching television
at the right moment,
you’ll probably not know
when the missiles are in the air,
and you won’t know
when there are a few minutes left
before the world is blown to smithereens.
The eclipse will be rhythmic,
and right-sided,
and soft caramel.

But the land masses were moving.
The waters were opening,
and the surface of the earth
was totally changed.
There were numberless continents.
The clouds that covered the earth
were only in one hemisphere.
The earth was spinning and rolling.
It had no orbit in relation to other planets.
There was no day or night.
Hardly any people were left.
The earth had no force of gravity.
Everything was vertical.
The surface of the earth
became impenetrable,
and as hard as plate glass.
Those that were left behind
clung to the earth with picks and axes.
The others had fallen off.

I lived in a realm of space
where there were no directions.
To travel in any direction
was to travel in all directions.
There was no here and there.
To be there,
and to be infinitely far away
were one and the same.
If you reach the center of things,
is there any other place to go?
If the universe is infinite,
doesn’t that make any point
the center of the universe?

I reached critical mass.
My circuits were connecting.
I reached someone else in the universe.
I was going to go off
with the force of a hydrogen bomb.

I told the man who’d told me
about life and death
that I thought I ‘d found life.
He said, “To be given birth
is to realize there is no death.
It was birth to come to life.
But before birth, you already had life.
Your being given birth
means that
there had to have been something
to be given birth.
Your life is a rebirth.
Birth, life, death.
Is death the end of life?
There is something in life
that doesn’t end in death.
When you’ve seen what death is,
then you’ll know
whether you are one with others.
When you become one with others,
then you’ll have found life.”