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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.
The World is not an idea as asserted by philosophers who have dedicated their entire lives to the exploration of ideas. First and foremost the world is passion. But passion is associated with sadness. Sadness does not only arise from death which makes us face the Eternity, but also from life which causes us to confront the Time.
- Nikolai Berdyaev
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Dr. Sherwin Nuland died this week at the age of 83. He became well-known for his first book, How We Die, which won the National Book Award in 1994. For him, pondering death was a way of wondering at life — and the infinite variety of processes that maintain human life moment to moment. He reflects on the meaning of life by way of scrupulous and elegant detail about human physiology:

“Wonder is something I share with people of deep faith. They wonder at the universe that God has created, and I wonder at the universe that nature has created. This is a sense of awe that motivates the faithful, motivates me. And when I say motivates, it provides an energy for seeking. Just as the faithful will always say, ‘We are seeking,’ I am seeking.”

We remixed this interview and present it in his honor.

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"Where did the thought of the Higgs boson come from? Does this particle exist only in our mind? Can it be manipulated by our thoughts? Is it possible that matter isn’t so much a thing as it is a perspective? If so, could it be that by changing this perspective we might discover that our essential nature isn’t matter-based after all?
Maybe the most important thing we have learned with the discovery of the Higgs boson is that there are a lot more questions to be answered and a lot more discoveries to be made – discoveries of both cosmic proportion and, perhaps more importantly, spiritual dimension.”

Read Eric Nelson’s full commentary on how the Nobel Prize for the “God Particle” discovery prompts deeper questions about ourselves.
Photo by Rene Passet

"Where did the thought of the Higgs boson come from? Does this particle exist only in our mind? Can it be manipulated by our thoughts? Is it possible that matter isn’t so much a thing as it is a perspective? If so, could it be that by changing this perspective we might discover that our essential nature isn’t matter-based after all?
Maybe the most important thing we have learned with the discovery of the Higgs boson is that there are a lot more questions to be answered and a lot more discoveries to be made – discoveries of both cosmic proportion and, perhaps more importantly, spiritual dimension.”

Read Eric Nelson’s full commentary on how the Nobel Prize for the “God Particle” discovery prompts deeper questions about ourselves.
Photo by Rene Passet

"Where did the thought of the Higgs boson come from? Does this particle exist only in our mind? Can it be manipulated by our thoughts? Is it possible that matter isn’t so much a thing as it is a perspective? If so, could it be that by changing this perspective we might discover that our essential nature isn’t matter-based after all?

Maybe the most important thing we have learned with the discovery of the Higgs boson is that there are a lot more questions to be answered and a lot more discoveries to be made – discoveries of both cosmic proportion and, perhaps more importantly, spiritual dimension.”

Read Eric Nelson’s full commentary on how the Nobel Prize for the “God Particle” discovery prompts deeper questions about ourselves.

Photo by Rene Passet

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Atheists and believers alike will find something useful in this conversation. I promise.

"Religion for Atheists” is Alain de Botton’s prescription for people who don’t believe, but may respect and miss experiences of faith. This cradle-atheist is dissatisfied with popular dismissals of religion, and he’s giving voice to a new way.

He says that the most boring question you can ask of any religion is whether it is true. But how to live, how to die, what is good, and what is bad — these are questions religion has sophisticated ways of addressing. And he feels that secular society has emptied public spaces of religious messaging, only to fill them with commercial proselytizing that may impoverish us morally. And so Alain de Botton has created something called The School of Life, where people young and old explore ritual, community, beauty and wisdom.

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Tuesday Evening Melody: “I & Thou” by The Daredevil Christopher Wright

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Martin Buber portrait

"I love exploring my own doubt, and how people have wrestled with the idea of understanding human motivation, purpose."
~Jason Sunde, songwriter

Martin Buber's 1923 seminal work I and Thou is essential reading for many a seminary student. And, the Wisconsin band The Daredevil Christopher Wright has rendered this classic namesake into song. And it’s got us reading and talking more about this Jewish religious thinker too.

"Every Thou in the world is by its nature fated to become a thing, or continually re-enter into the condition of things."
~Martin Buber, from I and Thou

Our colleague Chris Roberts spoke with the songwriters for his latest story at Minnesota Public Radio. Listen to the audio (left).

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By inaction one can become the center of thought, the focus of responsibility, the arbiter of wisdom. Full allowance must be made for others, while remaining unmoved oneself. There must be a thorough compliance with divine principles, without any manifestation thereof. All of which may be summed up in the one word “passivity.” For the perfect man employs his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing: it refuses nothing. It receives, but does not keep. And thus he can triumph over matter, without injury to himself.
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ZhuangziZhuangzi (Chuang Tzŭ), from Lionel Giles’ Musings of a Chinese Mystic

The idea behind the Taoist sage’s language is appealing, but I’m not sure I fully grasp its meaning — or that I fully buy into it. Perhaps someone could help me better comprehend it?

(via trentgilliss)

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When we speak of the idea of America, we are speaking of many interconnected ethical ideas, both metaphysical ideas that deal with ultimate reality, and ethical and social ideas, which all together offered hope to the world. The idea of America, with all that it contained within it about the moral law, nature, God and the human soul, once reflected to some extent the timeless ancient wisdom that has guided human life since the dawn of history. America was a new and original expression, in the form of a social and political experiment, of ideas that have always been part of what may be called the great web of Truth. Explicitly and implicitly, the idea of America has resonated with this ancient, timeless wisdom and has allowed something of its power to touch the heart and mind of humanity. It is necessary to recover this resonance, this relationship, however tenuous and partial, between the teachings of wisdom and the idea of America.
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The American Soul by Jacob NeedlemanJacob Needleman, from his wonderful book, The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders

A happy Fourth of July to all Americans celebrating independence today. Please keep in mind all the countries and people in the Middle East trying to develop their own experiments in democracy — and that anything worth having always takes time.

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How Do We Swing Honor Around?

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Can we make the world a better place if we change the way people think about honor? This is the question philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah explores in this smart, three-minute short film. He gives several examples of how customs that were once considered a matter of honor — challenging someone to a duel or foot-binding small girls — persisted for thousands of years but ceased after a few decades.

But why? Only when the fundamental dialogue in society is based on respect, Appiah says, can we change the way accepted practices, such as honor killings, are viewed by the people who carry them out.

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Suzuki Roshi used to say that what was needed most in the monastery were people who were good at cleaning out the corners. The most perverting ideas are the ones that lie for years and years in the dark corners of our mind. Like spiders, they creep out while we are sleeping and spin their webs of illusion. Only when the mind is clean, in order, and uncluttered can the present moment be fully realized. If we hang onto past memories, trophies of our good-old-days, in time our mind and our home will be a museum instead of a place to encounter the present reality. The relationship between house cleaning, garden cleaning, and mental caretaking is not just symbolic. It is very direct.
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Marian Mountain, The Zen Environment

(h/t Joan Halifax)

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If you have, let us say, a theory about man, and if you can only prove it by talking about Plato and George Washington, your theory may be quite a frivolous thing. But if you can prove it by talking about the butler or the postman, then it is serious, because it is universal. So far from it being irreverent to use silly metaphors on serious questions, it is one’s duty to use silly metaphors on serious questions. It is the test of one’s seriousness. It is the test of a responsible religion or theory whether it can take examples of pots and pans and boots and butter-tubs. It is a test of a good philosophy whether you can defend it grotesquely. It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.
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Chesterton sketchedG.K. Chesterton, from the chapter “Spiritualism” in his 1908 book All Things Considered

Image by Bill Rogers/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Anonymous asked:
The bible says that white hair is found among those who live a virtuous life. So being, at the time of his death, Osama bin Laden had lived a more virtuous life than Krista Tippet. Not to hard to believe.

Dear Anonymous:

This reasoning might be considered a hypothetical syllogism. If you are being sincere when making this deductive inference, I might suggest that you reevaluate the validity of your premises and redraw your conclusion. For clinging to this fallacious reasoning deceives yourself and others you are trying to persuade.

Now, if your deductive reasoning is intended to be hurtful (even through humor) rather than logical, I’d like to offer a perspective Martin Marty once shared with our program on how he measures a person’s character:

"I’ve often thought — I’ve often said, ‘If Billy Graham had been born mean, we’d be in terrible trouble,’ because he had so much power, so many gifts, and so on. One of my distinctions in religion is not liberal and conservative, but mean and non-mean. You have mean liberals and mean conservatives, and you have non-mean of both."

I hope you are one of those non-mean people whose influence betters the conversation rather than hastens its demise with sarcasm and weak logic.

Kind regards and happy new year,
Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Business Tips on Living Well

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Web 2.0 conference/San Francisco, Nov 2008 - 08The following three points from the Harvard Business Review could just as well be applied as an operating motto for one’s personal life and not just for business networking, non?

  • Revise your conference calendar.
  • Talk to the loners.
  • Find diversity within.

Photo by Ed Yourdon/Flickr, cc by-sa 2.0

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My sense of the holy, insofar as I have one, is bound up with the hope that someday, any millennium now, my remote descendants will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law. In such a society, communication would be domination-free, class and caste would be unknown, hierarchy would be a matter of temporary pragmatic convenience, and power would be entirely at the disposal of the free agreement of a literate and well-educated electorate.
- Richard Rorty (1931-2007), from an exchange between the American pragmatist philosopher and the Catholic philosopher Gianni Vattimo in The Future of Religion.
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Compassion Is a Skill to Be Developed Through Practice

by Krista Tippett, host

Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche makes a point, Childrens and Young People's Audience and Blessing, Matthieu Ricard, students, Longhouse, Vancouver BC, Lotus Speech CanadaMatthieu Ricard looks on as Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche makes a point to children in Vancouver, Canada. (photo: Linda Lane/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

The title we’ve given this week’s show, “The ‘Happiest’ Man in the World,” is slightly tongue-in-cheek. It appeared in a British newspaper after the publication of scientific study results on Matthieu Ricard’s brain. He dismisses this label and has issued many good-natured disclaimers. We’ve revived it here, however, because of the lovely way in which Matthieu Ricard fills that phrase with a whole new range of savvy, satisfying meaning.

I certainly found myself identifying with Ricard’s descriptions, in his own writing, of his youthful, worldly-wise dismissal of “happiness” as a goal. I too was dismissive, well into adulthood, of the very word “happiness” and its overwhelming associations with the dream-come-true state that ends movies, for example, or the happiness as “having it all” American way.

But Matthieu Ricard puts words to what I’ve learned as I’ve grown older. He accomplishes that as much with his ideas as with his presence. He is a slightly incongruous yet wholly comfortable Frenchman SoundSeen: Unedited Interview with Ricardswathed in the lavish gold and red of Tibetan monastic robes, with practical shoes beneath. He is at once sophisticated and mischievous, intellectual and childlike — something, that is, like his teacher the Dalai Lama. It was a privilege to experience them both at a series of gatherings in Vancouver, British Columbia, where they were in conversation with Nobel laureates, scientists, social activists, and educators. We converted a tenth-floor suite at the Shangri-La Hotel, aptly named and somewhat surreal, into a production suite for this interview, which you can view as well as hear on our site.

I am fascinated by the way in which science is interwoven with Matthieu Ricard’s life story as well as his current work with the Dalai Lama and his very definition of the spiritual quest. He is one of those so-called “Olympic meditators" — people who have meditated tens of thousands of hours and whose brains have been studied and yielded important new insights into something called neuroplasticity — the human brain’s capacity to alter across the life span. This is a fairly recent and fairly dramatic — and not uncontroversial — discovery that came about as a result of research involving the Mind and Life Institute — a fascinating dialogue with scientists from many disciplines that the Dalai Lama has been hosting for many years.

Matthieu Ricard actually began his life as a molecular biologist, working with a Nobel Prize-winning biologist at the prestigious Pasteur Institute in Paris. His decision to leave France for a Buddhist monastic path greatly perplexed his father, Jean-François Revel, a philosopher who was a pillar of French intellectual life. But as he describes in a literary dialogue with his father that was published as The Monk and the Philosopher, Tibetan Buddhism was less of a departure in his mind than in his father’s.

The Impressionable Faces of Buddhist SilenceHe had become drawn to the spiritual masters, who would later become his teachers and eventually his peers, leading lives of integrity. And there was a very personal, full-circle integrity in his love of the natural world that had manifest itself in part in biological research — and in his appreciation for Buddhist spirituality as a life shaped by what he describes as “contemplative science.” I am utterly fascinated by the echoes between science and spirituality that Matthieu Ricard has continued to pursue and that we discuss together in this show.

Will neuroscience one day be able to not merely describe the movement of neurons and brain chemistry but add its own vocabulary to the meaning and nature of human consciousness, as related to or distinct from the brain? And how can we not be fascinated by the evocative echoes between the way quantum physicists have come to describe energy and matter and the way Buddhist philosophy has always described the interconnectedness and impermanence of human experience and all of life? Our understanding of the intersection of mind, life, body, and however you want to define the human spirit continues to unfold and develop, and is one of the most intriguing frontiers of this century.

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The question for me is, how do we love wisdom — philosophia — in the face of impending catastrophe, given the kind of thinking, loving, caring, laughing, dancing animals that we are?
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Cornel West at Calvin CollegeCornel West, as excerpted from "Focus on the Funk" an interview with Eduardo Mendieta

Photo by James Stewart/Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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