My name is James and I describe myself as StillJustJames.

Because of the character and subject of my writing, I am frequently confronted by the prejudices of individuals, who, believing that they already know my motivation for speaking, and therefore, what it is I am going to say, never take the time to listen to my actual words and their intended meaning.

I find this way of being to be a great waste, because prejudices are not knowledge, nor are they in any way indicative of an understanding of anything, but rather, are merely the necessary condition for lost opportunities to communicate with others — and it’s this which leads us to waste this precious opportunity we each have to learn something new, and perhaps important on our way through life.

What is worse, we often can’t even see each other, let alone communicate, because of this miasma of prejudices — prejudgements about the other — that we burden ourselves with.

A Man Met Himself

It had been cold a very long time and
Rocks were covered by clear sheets of ice.

There was no pleasure in days such as this
And yet, there could be…
For the cold made things sharper if one looked.

But that was the trick, one had to look
For it was in the looking that one finds the truth.

A man met himself going out of town and
This made him wary because it was not normal
To meet oneself like this.

The man paused and his self paused too
The two looked each upon the other.

At first he could not see any visible differences, yet
There must be differences that I cannot see
Each thought to himself.

The man asked his self who he was
And his self asked him the same.

What trickery is this? the man thought
He could see the brow on the other furrow in doubt
As if the other was a mime.

How can this be? the man questioned
His self questioned too.

The man looked for a very long time
Until he became anxious about his self’s intentions
Whether he meant to harm him.

This made him squirm a little and
That is when he realized it was just his reflection in the ice.

Surprised and having had enough of this
He hurled a “good day” to his self
As he hurried along his way.

As he passed, his self turned to follow
A smile crossed his face as he echoed “good day!”

And it seems that nowadays we can’t meet each other at even a basic level of respect necessary to create an opening for sharing each others inherent and found wisdom; but must, rather, always diagnose each others "problems", "short-comings", and "motivations" instead. And while such behavior doesn’t explain why society always seems so screwed-up, perhaps it’s a start.

Diagnosing Others (a faked picture of Carl found online)

As with many issues that we are confronted with today, this habitual pattern of behavior arises from the popularization of scientific theories that are actually only unproven hypotheses that are believed by the public to be true.

Exactly how such ideas are popularized isn’t the point here, but rather, that they are disseminated to the public as being true — and useful — is necessary to understand what is happening.

Phrenology is a useful paradigm for what I am speaking of here. It being the unsubstantiated belief that studying the shapes and contours of human craniums would be a useful indicator of general intelligence and character.

Phrenology is now labeled a pseudo-science because its evidentiary basis never reached the heights of its promised validity by its scientist-creator. However, phrenological insights were influential in the psychiatry and psychology of the 19th century — the assertion that character, thoughts, and emotions are located in specific areas of the brain is considered an important historical advance toward the advent of neuropsychology.⁠¹ And yet, none of it has ever actually been proven to be true, it’s just a useful working model that fits the preconceived notions of practitioners.

I say “preconceived” simply because of our normal way of transmitting ideas: when the source of an idea is taken to be an authority — whether in our opinion, because of a lack of due-diligence to research the source, or because of our trust in credentials — what they say is just accepted as true.

The alternative to this is that we work it out ourselves through our own efforts, using the concept as something to be proven, or disproven; but we are so busy today, who has the time! And that is our weakness. Most ‘scientific’ knowledge comes to us prepackaged, and we accept it as authoritative. But do you know where your scientist has been?

A related problem here is what has been called “Science For Sale,” which refers to scientific studies underwritten by special interests who are looking for a scientific justification for whatever it is they are trying to sell to the public, or some segment of it.

And then, when you mix this soup of preconceived ideas with our prejudices, the result is a toxic brew that makes it very hard to be in communion with anyone.

The Real Carl Sagan

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།

The resulting behavior — of falling into a mode where we diagnose the other, rather than listening to them because we are unable to extend respect to each other — is also a well-foreseen character of our times today, driven by simmering conditions coming to a head in the present day. And there are other related behaviors that are so prevalent now, they seem to be familiar to us, rather than cause for alarm.

In his work titled “The Light That Makes Things Clear: A Prophecy of Things to Come” which can be found at the end of this book, the widely respected Tibetan lama Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro (1896–1959) recounts how the Buddha taught that in this time in which so much of value seems lost or in the process of being subverted and ruined, we humans will be greatly suffering because of our failure to act in life-sustaining and community-sustaining ways:

One will not compliment or praise another person; there will only be praise of oneself and putting down others. There will basically be four social groups: the politicians, the rich, common people, and the well-educated.

“Ten impure practices” are identified in his prophetic text as being the cause of this suffering of people and the fracturing of communities. Here are the seven most relevant to this dialog:

1. Killing or encouraging others to kill.

2. Stealing or encouraging others to steal.

3. Engaging in licentious acts or encouraging others to do so.

4. Using false words and speech, or encouraging others to do so.

5. Praising oneself and speaking ill of others, or encouraging others to do so.

6. Being stingy, or encouraging others to be so.

7. Harboring anger or encouraging others to be angry.

It is hard to refrain from pointing out that these seven “impure practices,” are endemic in our societies today, and while they are leading to the end of our way of life, and the fracturing of our communities, they are widely used by many politicians and wannabe tyrants in our so-called democratic nations in order to control and manipulate us.

And these modes of behavior, telegraphed as they are on a daily basis via the press and online social media platforms, have become the normative mode of being for us all. That is, we no longer even remark on their presence, so common have they become — but we do remark on the rare occasions when an individual doesn’t act in the ways listed above because it is now so outside the norms we accept as natural.

As well, those seven practices are the major thematic ingredients of films, books of fiction, and plays — as well as the focus of our daily “news”. Which is to say, we entertain ourselves watching people manifesting those seven behaviors.

The Buddha famously replied, when he was first asked to teach his newfound enlightenment: “No one will listen to me, and even if they do, no one will understand what I am saying.”

Note that he didn’t say that people couldn’t understand what he was saying, he said that they wouldn’t. That is an important distinction.

Obviously people can understand his teachings — there are hundreds of millions of Buddhists in the world today. Instead, the Buddha was referring to people’s willingness to listen — their ability to respect that the Buddha’s words possibly had some important meaning to convey to them, even though those ideas were foreign to their current way of thinking.

People are able to listen, they just are unwilling to do so.

This is most frequently seen when someone infers a certain idea about you, even though it is absent from your speech: “so what you’re really saying is…”

It takes a willingness to listen, to not fall into this mental trap of assuming whatever ideas your diagnosis of the other leads you to believe. And it’s often difficult to distinguish our authentic attempts to understand others, from those movements of mind directly resulting from our filtering the other through our body of prejudices. Doing so requires a degree of meta-cognition which can only come through training one’s mind.

What Man Knows

What man knows the breadth of another’s meaning?
Few of us can measure our own.
So we use our words in a faint pantomime
Of ideas only dimly thought thru
Or bent into the faint memory of what we feel.
Which one of us can measure that upon hearing?
But measure we do, for all men are would-be engineers
And we bend the little shape of meaning offered to us
So that it fits in our pre-conceived jars
Like two summers old conserves.
What is it we are measuring then?
The words of others?
Or our own handiwork?
Is it right to call it communication?
When it is only a soliloquy like this?
Do not place my meaning in a jar
It won’t fit
It won’t keep
Because it is a bottle-rocket
Only meant to briefly mark a place in the sky.

It wasn’t until the Buddha’s four old ascetic colleagues acknowledged him, after initially shunning him because of his abandoning his own asceticism, that he was seen as an authority and people began to come listen to his teachings. Without those first four, the Buddha would just have been seen as an idiosyncratic crank in the forest, to whom, no one paid any attention.

Even Padmasambhava, the Eighth Century Buddhist master from Northern India, who helped bring Buddhism to Tibet, saw the wisdom of an old woman when she told him that no one would listen to his teachings unless he had the blessings of some other lineaged masters.

We are unwilling to listen to new ideas unless we see someone’s credentials first — and they better be orthodox. This has some practical value it is said, and yet it leads to an inability to engage with others. In the field of Science, this leads to a well-known — and verified — fault that one scientist, Max Plank, said was that Science can only advance one funeral at a time. That is, the practice of science is corrupted by dismissive attitudes towards minority opinions and its resistance to new evidence that undermines accepted theories, as well as its immovability when pet theories of powerful individuals are questioned. It is only once these individuals and defenders of orthodoxy die-off that Science can once again move forward.

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།

These ways of engaging with each other hurts us all. But today, with the advent of popularized behavioral hypotheses from the field of Psychology, which we use to diagnose everyone we meet — except for authoritative figures to whom we render our respect and trust their motives, sometimes blindly — a new phenomenon is found in human communications: Kangaroo Psychologisms — from which there is no defense.

What I am calling a ”kangaroo psychologism” is an uncompromising interpretive tactic, which is oftentimes used in conversations during which an assertion is made about another’s psychological motivation(s), which are presented by the speaker as being self-evidently true.

Sometimes such statements are deployed when the speaker doesn’t want to, or can’t, respond to the other’s presentation of a view, or personal opinion, on a subject under discussion.

Sometimes, these types of statements are used just to annoy the target, and this is a form of “commonplace malevolence” that I have argued elsewhere is a result of our sociopathic culture, because commonplace malevolence is so ingrained in our mundane activities that we don’t even notice the uncompassionate nature of our behavior anymore.

And of course, some people just like to entertain themselves by frustrating, antagonizing, or angering others, usually online, or while driving a car.

What is worse is the particular nature of these psychologisms. If the target of these statements objects to them, or takes offense when they are expressed, their reactions are taken as, and re-presented to be, just more evidence of the target’s (hyper)sensitivity to their spiritual, moral, or mental shortcomings – depending upon the context of their use.

A “psychologism” is an explanation for, or interpretation of, statements or ideas in psychological terms rather than on the basis of their meaning. It implies that the speaker has a superior understanding of someone’s motivations than they have themselves, so that the content of their statement or idea does not need to be taken seriously because it is merely symptomatic of their shortcomings, rather than essential to what is being discussed.

“Kangaroo” is an allusion to a “kangaroo court” in which “anything you say is evidence of your guilt,” which is a good characterization of the kinds of exchange that usually follow the introduction of a psychologism into a conversation.

In short, a psychologism is a form of subtle contempt structured as an ad hominem rebuke.

Kangaroo psychologisms frequently pop-up in academic discussions, legal proceedings, political debates, and online public discussions.

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།

When I run into someone wielding their favorite psychologisms, whether at me or at some other, I am motivated to point out the unsaid assumption triggering their rudeness.

The simple question that I pose to those that diagnose others is: do you believe that mind-training changes the mind, much like weight-training changes the body? If so, why would you apply the same psychological assumptions to someone with a trained mind as you do to someone with an untrained mind? Is a trained body as weak as a couch potato? And since we can never know the quality of someone’s mind, why would you ever presume anything about them at all? Wouldn’t that be a case of acting in ignorance?

My point here is to introduce an understanding that each individual is unique, not some homogenous subject to be studied with reference to pop-psychological ideas. Because it is only by extending this fundamental respect — that the other is as unique and important as you yourself are — that community can arise.

And there is an important connection to mind-training to be understood here: insights along our path can lead to the unfounded idea that one is enlightened and therefore knows better what the Truth is, than others.

This surfaces sometimes in teacher-student relationships when the student starts believing he or she knows more than the teacher, and their relationship suffers or is broken. It also surfaces in discussions between practitioners of different meditation practices during which a one-upmanship phenomenon occurs, or when someone makes a totalizing statement that something is necessarily true for others — simply because it was true for them.

Sometimes, a speaker, feeling the intensity of what they perceive to be the truth burning through their words, fails to see that they are just making shit up — that no one said what they think was said, that no one meant what they think was meant, and that no one was motivated in the way that they have portrayed them to be.

And in regards to mind-training, progress in developing concentration and a few insights along the way, does not a Buddha make. Certainly, the lack of compassion shown in this way of speaking to others, by diagnosing them, is evidence that there is still much work to be done.

It’s good to be aware of these now common ways of interpreting and diagnosing others, so that we can be sensitive to the effect of speaking this way.

Shutting someone down is different than convincing them, or educating them, and it makes it impossible to communicate further. The need to express one’s “truth” is not a valid reason to insult, criticize, or attempt to harm others that don’t see your truth in the same light.

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།

It is hard not to get caught up in this way of being — the last four paragraphs are all too autobiographical — but training your mind reduces, and eventually erases such behavior. Yet even so, there will always be ample evidence of the truth of what I have said.

As an example, I started this dialog by mentioning my name, and I did so for a purpose. You see, I once attended a weekend course on meditation given by a well-known Tibetan lama, and at one point, he digressed to tell a story about what are called “Buddhist names” and a time that he tried to teach a student that his desire for such a name was an attachment that was holding him back.

He related that this student had come to him to ask the lama to bestow a Buddhist name on him, pointing out that he had been a good and earnest student for many years. The lama asked the student what his given name was, and the man replied, “John.” The lama said: “Ok, your Buddhist name is John.” The student, as the lama recounted, stood there bewildered. So the lama, after a sufficient pause, explained to the man that this desire for a name was an attachment.

I found the story the lama related very useful myself, especially given the predilection of many people to become attached to symbols and traditions, rather than the underlying wisdom that they stand for. But for other reasons, years later, I adopted the name I use today. It’s not a Buddhist name, nor has it been bestowed upon me. It’s just my description of who I am today. But it catalyzed a very interesting effect, that helped me to see the points I have just written about above. It turned out to be a kind of verbal “Rorschach Test

I found that, very often, those that criticized my efforts could not see my name as a description at all, but only as a kind of admission: that I was admitting that my meditation practice had not been very effective at all. It’s a silly little point, but I thought I would explain why I was surprised by this, and how it helped me to acknowledge what I didn’t want to acknowledge:

People are able to listen, they just are unwilling to do so. And no matter what you say to convince them otherwise, they cannot hear your meaning.

So, how did you interpret the way I describe myself — StillJustJames — at the beginning of this dialog?

If you took it to mean that I am still just who I have always been — that is, James — you are possibly viewing me through your prejudices, because that meaning is not present in this English phrase. Granted, if you have read this far, you obviously have enough interest and a basic level of respect to at least read all of what I wrote.

You see, there is no verb in my name. It’s just my name and two adjectives, not all that unlike “Smokey the Bear” or “James the Just” (the brother of Jesus). But you heard an adverbial phrase “still just.” Why?

The two adjectives that are used have their standard meanings:

“Still” means that James is tranquil; normally free from agitation of mind. It comes from having achieved what Tibetan Buddhists refer to as the ‘Eighth Bhumi, which is described in this way:

The eighth bhumi is called Acala, or No Moving Stage. Such a Bodhisattva cannot be moved by any kind of sorrow, by any kind of false view, by any kind of love of money, of fame, or reputation, by anything, good or bad; he cannot be moved and is calm and undisturbed.²

“Just” means that he is acting in conformity with what is morally good in the present context.

I am pointing this out, using this trivial example, because it helps to elucidate that these prejudices of ours operate below the level of our conscious thoughts. It’s not that we apply these prejudices to what others say, it’s that we can’t hear anything other than their words already filtered through our prejudices.

Think about it.

And, of course, someone might take this new meaning I have explained here in a different way than I intend it. They might believe that what I am “really” saying with these words, Sill Just James, is that I am an enlightened being.

If you think so, I suggest that you look again. I am only claiming three things there: that the result of a half-century of meditation has left me with a tranquil mind; that my half-century of meditating with inner spontaneous sound has changed me in a way that causes me to always respond to the present context without over-weighting any egoic or self-centered concerns, and that I am called “James.”

Hearing what I actually claim in the name that I use could elicit an interesting conversation, whereas, filtered through ones prejudices just shuts-down communication and cuts-off a possibly interesting and useful discussion.

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།

We limit and constrain ourselves with the implicit worldview we have been enculturated into, and inculcated with. This leads to our quite normal way of misinterpreting what is happening in each moment of our lives. Seeing ourselves as separate from, and independent of, all else, we naturally personalize our experiences — that is, those categorized, named, and qualified “take-aways” we call “experiences”. And by personalizing them, we distinguish ourselves from everyone else because we take our cues from what our senses tell us about what is going on “out there”.

But we are not separate and independent, nor is there anything happening that is alien to us — neither arising from a source that is unconnected from us, nor outside of us.

What we currently take to be true arises from our senses, including, of course, our brain which is enmeshed with all sense perceptions. But it also, and more directly, arises from our failure to recognize the true nature of mind.

Sense perceptions can overwhelm us completely, such as during coitus — so long as the nature of mind eludes us. This is why coming to a direct realization of that nature is so important in spiritual traditions, and so problematic by its absence in the practice of modern science — and why working with inner spontaneous sound is so necessary today.

How can the coherent, spontaneous, and creative responsiveness apparent in the wisdom — that is, the ordered forms we perceive everywhere, which are not chaos — arise?

We seem, today, to have placed all bets on the mistaken belief that everything arises via chaotic motion of dead matter. But consider this: all that is manifested is coherent with the moment-by-moment context, and responsive to it. How could such wisdom manifest randomly?

And any protests raised by those who see the absurdity of the assertion that order arises out of chaos via random interactions is immediately characterized — without any considered reflection on the point — as the same old fantasy of intentional divine help. And more specifically divine intervention for the speaker at hand because they must believe themselves to be “special”.

But perhaps if we see through the walls of this limiting view of ourselves and our world, we would notice that it is all a nondual whole, and the inherent wisdom at play within it all can only deploy coherently within the context of our self-limiting beliefs and ideas. And thus, we can only see ourselves — our prejudices and preconceived notions — in everything we experience. It’s not the world that is screwed-up, it is we ourselves, because everything has been reduced to absurdities.

Everything is divine. Everything is always coherently responsive to what is — not an intentional act by an agent interfering in the world. It’s time to put that fantasy to bed and take our blinders off, even for just a moment — because that changes how we see everything forevermore. Once we realize the truth of this, and stop forcing everything to coincide with our ignorance, we will collectively achieve Nirvana — Heaven on Earth. Because the wisdom that manifests is limited only by the limitations we have imposed upon ourselves.

Thank you for listening. I hope you will think about this in your own interactions with others.

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།


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