The Guardians of the World

contemplation

Day after day, I find myself taken back by the increasing negation of basic moral and ethical guidelines, the denial of human rights identified within the United States Constitution, and the slow and methodical erosion of the separation of powers.  Possible war with North Korea, the upheaval centered around Saudi Arabia, populations of people-worldwide-struggling to survive in war-torn countries, and this growing internal conflict among American citizens awakens a state of anxiety.  I must admit while attending a church, walking through the mall, going to the theatre, and watching a high school graduation ceremony I struggled with anxious possibilities.  And now in the middle of all of this there is public controversy when a company decides to pull ads from a show that traffics in conspiracy theories, doubts victims of sexual abuse, and furthers the partisan division in this country as well as a political party that strives to deny medical care to those not within their circle of influence and is hell-bent to gain political favor through tax cuts for their donor base.

All of this has me feel as though I’m living in a Marvel comic script looking at darkened skies hoping for the arrival of a world protector.   What I found instead of The Avengers or The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was Bhikkhu Bodhi, an American Buddhist monk from New York City, who within his article entitled, The Guardians of the World, invited me to look inward.

“Like the Roman god Janus, every person faces simultaneously in two opposite directions. With one face of our consciousness we gaze in upon ourselves and become aware of ourselves as individuals motivated by a deep urge to avoid suffering and to secure our own well-being and happiness. With the other face we gaze out upon the world and discover that our lives are thoroughly relational, that we exist as nodes in a vast net of relationships with other beings whose fate is tied up with our own. Because of the relational structure of our existence, we are engaged in a perpetual two-way interaction with the world: the influence of the world presses in upon ourselves, shaping and altering our own attitudes and dispositions, while our own attitudes and dispositions flow out into the world, a force that affects the lives of others for better or for worse.

This seamless interconnection between the inner and outer domains acquires a particular urgency for us today owing to the rampant deterioration in ethical standards that sweeps across the globe. Such moral decline is as widespread in those societies which enjoy a comfortable measure of stability and prosperity as it is in those countries where poverty and desperation make moral infringements an integral aspect of the struggle for survival. Of course we should not indulge in pastel-colored fantasies about the past, imagining that we lived in a Garden of Eden until the invention of the steam engine. The driving forces of the human heart have remained fairly constant through the ages, and the toll they have taken in human misery surpasses calculation. But what we find today is a strange paradox that would be interesting if it were not sinister: while there appears to be a much wider verbal acknowledgment of the primacy of moral and human values, there is at the same time more blatant disregard for the lines of conduct such values imply. This undermining of traditional ethical values is in part a result of the internationalization of commerce and the global penetration of virtually all media of communication. Vested interests, in quest of wider loops of power and expanding profits, mount a sustained campaign aimed at exploiting our moral vulnerability. This campaign proceeds at full pace, invading every nook and corner of our lives, with little regard for the long-term consequences for the individual and society. The results are evident in the problems that we face, problems that respect no national boundaries: rising crime rates, spreading drug addiction, ecological devastation, child labor and prostitution, smuggling and pornography, the decline of the family as the unit of loving trust and moral education.

The Buddha points to two mental qualities as the underlying safeguards of morality, thus as the protectors of both the individual and society as a whole. These two qualities are called in Pali hiri and ottappa. Hiri is an innate sense of shame over moral transgression; ottappa is moral dread, fear of the results of wrongdoing. The Buddha calls these two states the bright guardians of the world (sukka lokapala). He gives them this designation because as long as these two states prevail in people’s hearts the moral standards of the world remain intact, while when their influence wanes the human world falls into unabashed promiscuity and violence, becoming almost indistinguishable from the animal realm (Itiv. 42).

While moral shame and fear of wrongdoing are united in the common task of protecting the mind from moral defilement, they differ in their individual characteristics and modes of operation. Hiri, the sense of shame, has an internal reference; it is rooted in self-respect and induces us to shrink from wrongdoing out of a feeling of personal honor. Ottappa, fear of wrongdoing, has an external orientation. It is the voice of conscience that warns us of the dire consequences of moral transgression: blame and punishment by others, the painful kammic results of evil deeds, the impediment to our desire for liberation from suffering. Acariya Buddhaghosa illustrates the difference between the two with the simile of an iron rod smeared with excrement at one end and heated to a glow at the other end: hiri is like one’s disgust at grabbing the rod in the place where it is smeared with excrement, ottappa is like one’s fear of grabbing it in the place where it is red hot.

In the present-day world, with its secularization of all values, such notions as shame and fear of wrong are bound to appear antiquated, relics from a puritanical past when superstition and dogma manacled our rights to uninhibited self-expression. Yet the Buddha’s stress on the importance of hiri and ottappa was based on a deep insight into the different potentialities of human nature. He saw that the path to deliverance is a struggle against the current, and that if we are to unfold the mind’s capacities for wisdom, purity and peace, then we need to keep the powderkeg of the defilements under the watchful eyes of diligent sentinels.

The project of self-cultivation, which the Buddha proclaims as the means to liberation from suffering, requires that we keep a critical watch over the movements of our minds, both on occasions when they motivate bodily and verbal deeds and when they remain inwardly absorbed with their own preoccupations. To exercise such self-scrutiny is an aspect of heedfulness (appamada), which the Buddha states is the path to the Deathless. In the practice of self-examination, the sense of shame and fear of wrongdoing play a crucial role. The sense of shame spurs us to overcome unwholesome mental states because we recognize that such states are blemishes on our character. They detract from the inward loftiness of character to be fashioned by the practice of the Dhamma, the stature of the ariyans or noble ones, who shine resplendent like lotus flowers upon the lake of the world. Fear of wrongdoing bids us to retreat from morally risky thoughts and actions because we recognize that such deeds are seeds with the potency to yield fruits, fruits that inevitably will be bitter. The Buddha asserts that whatever evil arises springs from a lack of shame and fear of wrong, while all virtuous deeds spring from the sense of shame and fear of wrong.

By cultivating within ourselves the qualities of moral shame and fear of wrongdoing we not only accelerate our own progress along the path to deliverance, but also contribute our share toward the protection of the world. Given the intricate interconnections that hold between all living forms, to make the sense of shame and fear of wrong the guardians of our own minds is to make ourselves guardians of the world. As the roots of morality, these two qualities sustain the entire efficacy of the Buddha’s liberating path; as the safeguards of personal decency, they at the same time preserve the dignity of the human race.”

~Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Guardians of the World (c) 1988

cited: “The Guardians of the World”, by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 5 June 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bps-essay_23.html .

©1993 Buddhist Publication Society. You may copy, reformat, reprint, republish, and redistribute this work in any medium whatsoever, provided that: (1) you only make such copies, etc. available free of charge and, in the case of reprinting, only in quantities of no more than 50 copies; (2) you clearly indicate that any derivatives of this work (including translations) are derived from this source document; and (3) you include the full text of this license in any copies or derivatives of this work. Otherwise, all rights reserved. Documents linked from this page may be subject to other restrictions. BPS Newsletter cover essay no. 23 (Spring 1993). Last revised for Access to Insight on 5 June 2010.
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in the shadow…homelessness

This abandoned house

shining

in the mountain village–

how many nights

has the autumn moon spent here?

~Ono no Komachi (J Hirshfield & M Aratani, The Ink Dark Moon)

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Lumix GX85   f/5.6   1/400 s   32 mm   200 ISO

Just a few words about today’s homelessness from the AP:

A homeless crisis of unprecedented proportions is rocking the West Coast, and its victims are being left behind by the very things that mark the region’s success: soaring housing costs, rock-bottom vacancy rates and a roaring economy that waits for no one. All along the coast, elected officials are scrambling for solutions.

“I’ve got economically zero unemployment in my city, and I’ve got thousands of homeless people that actually are working and just can’t afford housing,” said Seattle City Councilman Mike O’Brien.

cited:  Amid booming economy, homelessness soars on US west coast, Gillian Flaccus & Geoff Mulvihill, Associated Press, Nov. 9, 2017

Homeless advocates and city officials say it’s outrageous that in the shadow of a booming tech economy – where young millionaires dine on $15 wood-grilled avocado and think nothing of paying $1,000 for an iPhone X – thousands of families can’t afford a home. Many of the homeless work regular jobs, in some cases serving the very people whose sky-high net worth is the reason housing has become unaffordable for so many.

cited: ‘We still need to eat’: Tech boom creates working homeless, Janie Har, Associated Press, November 8, 2017.

And in the shadow of homelessness, tax havens for the wealthy:

The fundamental lesson of the Panama and Paradise Papers is twofold. First, the people everywhere, regardless of whether they live in Russia or America, are being oppressed by the same minuscule social circle of wealthy elites who unduly control our governments, corporations, universities and culture.

We now know without a doubt – thanks to the incontrovertible evidence provided by the Panama and Paradise Papers – that there is a global plutocracy who employ the same handful of companies to hide their money and share more in common with each other than with the citizens of their countries. This sets the stage for a global social movement.

Second, and most importantly, these leaks indicate that our earth has bifurcated into two separate and unequal worlds: one inhabited by 200,000 ultra high-net-worth individuals and the other by the 7 billion left behind.

cited: Why aren’t the streets full of protest about the Paradise Papers?, Micah White, The Guardian, November 10, 2017.

and…continued denial of basic human needs over political and corporate greed

… over the past few weeks, several Republicans have indicated that the tax bill would boost the wealth of the already rich and ensure that their political donations keep flowing to help the GOP hold power in 2018.

“My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again,’” Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), himself a millionaire,

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters on Thursday that a failure to pass tax reform would fracture the Republican Party and lead to more far-right wing primary challengers. “The financial contributions will stop,” he added.

cited: Republicans Admit that CEOs and Donors Really Need the Tax Cut Bill To Pass, Paul Blumenthal, HuffPost, November 9, 2017

How much money does one person really need?

In closing

Little is known about Ono no Komachi’s life, “and the stories about her are drawn from a blending of historic fact and suppositions drawn from her writings.  In The Dark Moon, Hirshfield and Aratani noted that historians believe she was the daughter of the lord of Dewa and served the court in the middle of the ninth century.  Legends, folktales, and songs paint her as the outstanding woman poet of her time and the most beautiful and desirable of woman.  Legend also tells us that towards the end of her life, she lived “in anonymity, isolation, and poverty, an ancient, half-mad hag living outside the city walls, though still writing poetry and possessing a deep understanding of Buddhist teachings.

Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other?

This youtube video is drawn upon Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem Please Call Me By My True Names. 

Photography Lesson 14 — Revisited

orignial raw image

Raj’s xdrive photography lesson lesson for November explored 10 edits that photographers should know about prior to publishing images.   My initial submission was of a family walking on a bike path during the golden hour.

nov-photo-lesson-1
Nikon D750   f/7.1   1/160 s   35 mm   400 ISO

Taking a few minutes to review this image in response to Raj’s feedback, I found that it is a bit of a challenge for me to notice the tilting due to 1) the curvature of the pathway as it moves my eyes to the background and 2) the presence of the trees hinders a clear view of the horizon.

In the markup below, my initial horizontal adjustment was the rooftop of the building in the background.  Raj noted in his feedback, “we can’t rely on anything man-made as it all depends on the orientation of these things.”   The areas I have circled were noted as over and underexposed by Capture One’s high exposure warning.

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raw image with markup

adjusted image

nov-photo-lesson-2redo
first edited image with markup

Raj noted that the image stilled seemed a bit tilted in the image above.  He also noted that the edited image is “kind of overexposed” and recommended that I “carefully check woman’s jacket, it looks kind of overexposed.”  Also my editing seemed need a bit more saturation.

The image below was cropped with Raj’s recommendation in mind and I find it to be more focused upon the family dynamics.   It also brings attention to Raj’s observation regarding the closeness of mother and daughter in comparison to the actions of the two boys.   I also did not attempt to lighten the shadow element of the boys as I wanted the image to be about the family.

While the image below seems to address the overexposure Raj noted in the above image, I’m still struggling with this as the histogram (within both Capture One and Photoshop) as well as the Capture One exposure warning does not indicate an overexposure.  So do I rely too much on technological guidelines over my vision?

It took me several tries to address the titling…sigh…

In regards to saturation, could the specifications of computer design as well as color calibration variances result in visual differences between what I see–or think I see–on my computer and what other bloggers see?  If so, is there a way to address this?   Also, I found that I needed to be very careful in regards to saturation as the image tended towards having a yellowish sheen.

All in all I the second edit does seem to be better.

nov-photo-lesson-3-5
second edit

monochrome images

nov-photo-lesson-3aredo
first monochrome image with markup

When I compare the above initial monochrome image with the one below, I’m able to more easily see areas that may be a bit overexposed.  The woman’s jacket has a burned appearance.  The detail in the woman’s jacket below offers a bit of resolution to my question above regarding overexposure…it’s about the detail in the woman’s jacket and the girl’s top.

Since the young boy looking towards the camera suggests a message of interaction, I find that I prefer the lightening in the above image when compared to the one below.

nov-photo-lesson-3-6
second edit

Again, I wish to express my gratitude to Raj and to all those wonderful bloggers who stop by and visit.

vanishing moments

Henri Cartier-Bresson said that photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing, and which no contrivance on earth can bring back again. Not even photography can bring these things back, except in the memory of those who knew them, or in the imagination those who did not.

(cited: J. Szarkowski, Looking at Photographs, pg. 124)

shadowstudyweb
Lumix GX85   f/7/1   1/640s   32 mm   200 ISO

Ólafur Arnalds is a BAFTA-winning multi-instrumentalist and producer from Mosfellsbær, Iceland. Ólafur Arnalds mixes strings and piano with loops and beats crossing over from ambient/electronic to pop.

three day quote challenge: 3rd day

The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is [master of himself] if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical instruction for bringing it about.  ~ William James

 

brendakofford_sojournIIweb

The rules of this three-day quote challenge are to post a favourite quote every day for three days, and pass on the challenge to three other bloggers. You can do this at any time you like – even next year – and you can also say, “No thanks.”

While I’ve enjoyed being challenged by others, I find it difficult to invite one blogger over another, so if you would like to join in please accept this invitation to share your favorite quotes.  Thank you Amy at The World is a Book for extending an invitation.  It eases all those times in the playground when I was among the last to be chosen to be on a team.  _()_

wpc: temporary

springcreek-1web
Nikon D50   f/10   1/50 s   24 mm   100 ISO

Memory bridges our past with the present and awakens us to an awareness that life is created by minute moments that often go unnoticed as our minds are frequently elsewhere.  Photography offers us a means to awaken to these temporary moments and to create priceless keepsakes of our yesterdays.