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    Archive for April, 2008

    Mike Myers (as The Love Guru) is the root of all evil

    Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

    Twenty-some years ago, on The Tonight Show (when Johnny was still hosting), comedian Bill Maher did a few minutes of insightful political humor, and then stopped and added this joke: “Ahhh, who am I to think I can change the world? I mean, I’m no folk singer.”

    There was more to that joke than a good laugh at uber-serious guys and gals with acoustic guitars who could use a shower.

    Contrary to the idea that laughing at someone or something can diminish their/its power, I think that when we laugh at something it lessens our charge about the issue. I think the more we laugh about it the more we dismiss it as unimportant.

    Which is why Mike Myers (yes, “Austin Powers” Mike Myers) is the root of all evil.

    Mike’s upcoming movie is The Love Guru where he plays an American boy who was raised by gurus in India (similar to being raised by wolves in Alaska, but with better food and more dirt), and then “comes back to seek fame and fortune in the world of self-help and spirituality” as Guru Pitka.

    The good news is that his motives are, at least, transparent and honest, unlike many of those whose footsteps he follows.

    The better news is that if the movie is half as funny as the material they’ve put out to advertise the movie, it’ll be HYSTERICAL.

    And now you might be getting the hint about why, once again, Mike Myers is the root of all evil.

    By getting everyone to laugh at the techniques that “gurus” (self-help, spiritual and business) have used for decades to help us become detached from our egos wallets, in the name of some nebulous thing called “growth,” we may become even LESS critical of people who make untenable promises of “personal advancement” with the help of meaningless acronyms (e.g. they say “fear” = false evidence appearing real… but I think should be: “F*%k! ‘ere are rattlesnakes!”) and dopey aphorisms turned into playing cards, screen savers, and needlepoint wall hangings (Like: “Enjoy the journey and not the goal”… something you would only think to tell yourself if you’re having a crappy trip and aren’t near a rest stop, let alone Disney World).

    So, even with Guru Pitka’s melodious voice (which is a better Deepak Chopra impression than Deepak Chopra does!), and his more useful teachings (rather than Sanskrit, his mantra is Hungarian: Mariska Hargitay, which, if you repeat it often enough will land you a part in an NBC crime drama), he may help make New Age nonsense seem even more meaningful!

    In fact, I’m willing to bet, right now, that after this movie comes out, the average “spiritual” reviewer will completely miss that Myers is skewering the self-help and spiritual biz and, instead, they’ll say things like, “Not only is Mike Myers funny, but he’s teaching the TRUTH!” Non-dual fans will drool over themselves (wait, have we just discovered a new teaching — non-drool-ism?) with the idea that Guru Pitka is introducing Ramana Maharshi’s “Who am I?” teaching to a whole new generation!

    There could, though, be a silver-ish lining to the (hopeful-if-hysterical) popularity of The Love Guru. Let me explain:

    Back when I would host comedy shows, I would sometimes open the show by doing every “hack” old joke I could think of (e.g. Here’s one that was told in Vaudeville houses and still shows up in comedy clubs: A bear and a rabbit are taking a dump in the woods. The bear asks the rabbit, “Hey, rabbit, do you have trouble with poo sticking to your fur?” “Never,” answers the rabbit. So the bear wipes his butt with the rabbit).

    I’d do this to punish the comics who would come on later and who relied on these old jokes rather than writing their own material. They’d tell the joke and instead of a laugh, they’d have the entire audience just staring at them, wondering why the guy was stealing material from the host (full disclosure: I stopped doing this technique because I didn’t want anyone who didn’t understand satire to think *I* was just another hack comic who relied on 80 year-old material).

    Well, Guru Pitka seems to be a walking Best Of… Old Trite Spiritual Teaching Stories. He has more “borrowed” material than the Chicken Soup books (which, btw, are ALL borrowed material). If we’re lucky, Pitka/Myers’ telling these stories will force the gang on the self-help circuit to write some new (I’m not too naive to hope for true) stories. But, if the gang proves to be as creative as they have been for 100+ years (did you know that the “teachings” from The Secret came from a book that’s almost 100 years old?), instead we’ll have a gaggle of gurus introducing their stupid stories with, “And as Guru Pitka said in The Love Guru…”

    All that said, I can’t wait to see the movie and nothing I said above will stop me from laughing — even at times where I’m the only one, no doubt — and thanks to The Love Guru, my new spiritual practice will be doing prostrations to Justin Timberlake, who is… well, go here to see for yourself.

    Does my cat have free will… or is that a hairball?

    Monday, April 28th, 2008

    A famous Zen story goes like this:

    A monk asks the master, Joshu, “Does a dog have Buddha-nature?”

    Joshu answers, “Mu!”

    This story has become known as the Mu koan — a koan being one of those semi-meaningless statements that, by beating your answer-seeking mind against the unanswerable statement, may, eventually, after a lot of brain beating, result in a moment where rationality snaps and you have a dramatic (and temporary) shift in perception (doesn’t that sound much less interesting than, “You experience Satori!”?).

    The way you wrestle with this koan is by trying to understand Joshu’s answer. And if you go to a Zen retreat where people are putting their mind into a cage match against the Mu koan, you’ll often hear people muttering, “Mu! Mu! Mu… mu… muuuuu,” as if repeating “2+2, 2+2, 2+2” will spontaneously make them think, “FOUR!”

    First of all, why they’re saying Mu is a mystery. Why did the entire story get translated into English, but not the last word?

    “Mu,” is a Japanese word for “no” or “nothing” or any form of negation. But you never hear good Zen boys and girls mumbling, “No. No. Nothing. No… nooooo….”

    Instead, they sit on the floor or walk around the zendo sounding like their practicing for the upcoming 4-H cow impression competition.

    Which makes me wonder if there’s another Zen story that hasn’t yet been translated:

    A monk asks Joshu, “Does a cow have Buddha nature?”

    Joshu answers, “WOOF!”

    But the Buddha nature of livestock and companion animals is not my concern here… I really want to know this:

    Do my cats have free will?

    My cats clearly learn things. Things like, “don’t eat that plant,” “that weird sound means food is coming,” “if I face this door and meow long enough I get treats,” and, “no matter how much those tall animals yell, I have no personal issue that would prevent me from walking on this counter, scratching that chair, and wiping my butt on the carpet.”

    My cats also seem to make decisions. Decisions like: “I will run to that empty corner of the room as if my life depended on it… NOW!” and, “NEVER MIND, I’ll make a 90-degree turn at 100 miles an hour and dash up the stairs instead.” Or, “I think I’ll nap here, and then get up and sleep there, and then rouse myself in time for some serious shut-eye over there.” And, even seeming artistic decisions like, “Yes, it is much more aesthetically pleasing if this mouse were floating in my water dish!”

    But do my cats have free will? It seems like a silly question. We don’t think they sit around deliberating, “Do I find a nice sunny spot to lie down, or do I plant myself in the middle of the guests and lick my butt ?” We don’t expect them to be thinking, “I feel a certain sensation that I’ll call ‘lacking’ and if I could only spend a weekend in a hotel room with other cats and discover my ‘purpose’ for living, I should be able to eliminate this sensation.”

    Cats seem to do fine, free will or not.

    Now, if we’re going to suggest that cats have do have free will, let’s move further back on the evolutionary chain… fish? worms? algae? amoeba?

    They all seem to survive just fine without what most of us would call free will. It doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite for survival.

    So, let’s head in the other direction. What about us?

    For over 40 years, cognitive scientists have noticed that you hook people up to various scanning and measuring devices and see something happen in the brain when they have made a decision. What has been puzzling to them is that this event takes place at least half a second prior to the person actually deciding. A recent study showed a neurological event SEVEN SECONDS prior to the person deciding, “NOW!”

    These scientists suggest that decisions, and perhaps most of the rest of our life, is happening in some non-conscious way, and that our conscious thought is simply narrating an event that has already passed.

    “I decided to buy that new Brittany Spears album,” is a thought you have merely to explain the fact that, for no rational reason, you’re standing in line with the CD in your hand, and some goth kid behind the counter giving you the evil eye.

    Some scientists say, “Well, the initial decision is out of our control… but then we can decide whether to act on it or not!”

    Oh? Really?

    But what about that decision? Why isn’t that one as non-conscious and non-controllable than the first?

    The notion that we aren’t the conscious and volitional actors that we seem to be makes most people more than a bit nervous… and many — including scientists — avoid thinking about it all together and then justify that lack of consideration with, “Well, that couldn’t be true… it sure seems like we have free will… the notion that we don’t argues with our every day experience!” Even though they know that what we “experience” and what is accurate are often as disconnected as “Paris Hilton” and “Nobel Prize for Physics.”

    Or people get even more nervous and suggest that if people truly accepted that the are not the ones running the show, then all hell would break loose. Or nobody would do anything. Or some other equally horrible future would ensue, where humans would merely alternate between watching Brady Bunch reruns, killing each other, and trying to lick themselves.

    But I’m not sure anything would change if we all suddenly accepted that, contrary to our seeming experience, we are DNA robots who have a glitch in the programming that makes us think we’re not robots. I’m not convinced that having an intellectual understanding of something that’s so contrary to our experience would make a bit of difference. After all, we know that we could die from any of a thousand causes in almost any moment, but that doesn’t stop us from partying like it’s 1999.

    Years ago I heard someone say, “Humans think they are immortal. The proof? They always act surprised when one of them dies in a manner that has taken out millions of others.” Every day’s newspaper, TV and radio tells of some “surprising” death… just like the “shocking” one from the day before and the day before and the day before and…

    Though, maybe, if we truly accepted that the thought of having free will is also just some idea that popped into our awareness after our non-conscious being “decided” to cut our hair with a lawn mower instead of a weed whacker… then, maybe, we wouldn’t be as committed to justifying and acting to support our beliefs. Maybe, for example, we would see our desire demonize some group of humans who speak, look, talk or smell differently than we do as no more “conscious” or rational than our “choice” to put on our pants left leg first.

    That might be interesting.

    I don’t know.

    I’m just thinking… or am I?





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