Friday, July 10, 2015

Redefining the Self: Further Exploration into Empathy

I feel that in any discussion of the self, the definitions of what we mean by "the self" can always become muddled as we are still only in the frontiers of discovery regarding consciousness, what it is, or what it means to have consciousness, or be conscious. Therefore, as this essay deals heavily with ideas of the self, or the lack thereof, please be patient if definitions waver and employ some level of suspension of belief in order to better appreciate the overall ideas discussed. 

The Buddha describes the self as the essence of a person. It is the part of a person that is non-changing, though the individual does change. The self is enduring and strives to continually endure, regardless of change in the individual, including that of death. However, the Buddha denies that there is such a self. In his book, Buddhism As Philosophy, Mark Siderits defines the Buddhist view of the self as, “the essence of a person—the one part whose continued existence is required for that person to continue to exist” (32). However, there is no one part of a person that seems to fall into this category. Take something like the human brain. While much research has been done in neuroscience, it is evident that the brain is continually changing (Pascual-Leone et al 383). Siderits goes on to say that it is likely that there is no part of an individual that must continually exist in order for that person to continue in existence (34). There is constant change. The Buddha tells us, however, that in order for there to be a self it must endure, or be eternal. However, there is no definition of what the self is, or can be—only what it cannot be through the idea of enduring. It then follows that something that can fit into the different skandha's that the Buddha lay's out—that of body, perception, ones volition, and conscious awareness—that that thing could be considered the self. This definition of the self then can be seen as the solver of Suffering, enlightenment. It can then be understood that what the Buddha discovered is correct, but his definitions were not. We can see the self through observing nature—or the universe—and its ability to allow things, essences, to endure. There are many ways the physical universe allows for this, through a scientific understanding of connections that can be made within existence.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Body is . . .

On December fifth, 1914 Ernest Shackleton headed out on an expedition to the North Pole, with hopes of being the first to reach its center. He and his crew sailed south from England and over a month and a half later, were stuck in the thick ice. For some time Shackleton and his men worked hard to break the ship free from the ice, moving at an alarmingly slow pace until, on February 24th the ship was abandoned of any routine and converted to a winter station as the boat drifted northward with the ice it had been lodged in. The crew remained on the converted ship for months, eating the sparse rations they had brought for the voyage, hoping for a spring thaw to release them from the ice, however, in October (Antarctica's spring) the hull could no longer take the pressure and water began pouring in, forcing the men to abandon the ship towards the end of November--almost a full year after leaving England.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Mowing the Lawn, Heroically

In W. H. Auden's poem, The Quest, he describes a man who undertakes a heroes journey. While the object of the man's quest is not laid our plainly before us we are able to get a sense of the struggles that not only this man faces (internal and external), but we are able to relate each even to ourselves, finding truth in our own 'mini-quests', or even on grandeur scales as may be. Within the poem we find several different sections underlining different attributes and events of the hero and his journey, as well as other's perspectives of the hero. One in particular brings to mind an interesting discussion of the heroes awareness of his own greatness, or heroism, as it were. In the section, "The Average" W. H. Auden writes:
The pressure of their fond ambition made
Their Shy and country-loving cild afraid
No sensible career was good enough,
Only a hero could deserve such love.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Brilliance of Spinoza

You see a man walking down the road in seventeenth century Denmark, on his way to the marked when a rock, from seemingly nowhere falls from the sky and onto his head. The man crumbles to the ground as you run over to him. He is breathing, but is obviously hurt but in a matter of minutes he sits up and rests along the wall of the building at the edge of the street. One man near by is heard saying, "where did that rock come from? Did you see it?" and soon a conversation is started.

"It must have fallen from the building," another says, joining in.
"But what caused it's fall?"
"Perhaps it was the wind that blew it?"
"Likely," you say, nodding your head. "But what caused the wind to blow such?"
"Ah, the waves, just beyond the city brought them."

Friday, July 3, 2015

Why Nephi Killed Laban: Part 4

It seems that ultimately we cannot know for sure why Nephi killed Laban. Unfortunately, we do not have enough of the right details to come to a solid conclusion. We cannot prove Nephi's (or Lehi's) upbringing, their knowledge, and adherence to Jewish law,  Laban's actual actions (what the actual threat level was), the secular traditions and treatment of death at the time were, and we cannot know Nephi's state of mind at the time of the killing. Ultimately, the question becomes unanswerable. All we can do is understand the conditions at the time and make guesses as to what may have caused Nephi to kill Laban. 

Furthermore, we cannot know the type of interaction Nephi actually had with the spirit, what outside influences may have helped, or if he really, truly felt that he and his brothers (as well as the nations they would start) would be unsafe if Laban lived. 

So what can we learn?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Why Nephi Killed Laban: Part 3

So far, we have briefly discussed what other prominent scholars have said regarding the reasons Nephi killed Laban, and have also shown the typical beliefs of the time in order to show the type of understanding and upbringing Nephi would have had at the time of his life. So now, after understanding a bit more where Nephi may have been coming from we can look at the actual events to explore our main question further.

In my previous post I first discussed Laban's actions against Laman directly, as well as the other brothers. Upon receiving the treasures from Lehi's son's, he sent his men after the brothers that they may "slay" them (1 Ne. 25-26). This action alone, according to Jewish law can be viewed as actions worthy of a death sentence. Here we must again speculate as to Nephi's views of these laws. It is reasonable that he would see these malicious actions as worthy of some sort of retribution. The extent of that retribution, of if Nephi felt it was necessary or plausible is mostly up to speculation. This may, however, shed some light onto Nephi's actions and willingness to kill Laban.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Why Nephi Killed Laban: Part 2

In order to explore this question, I first want to address several aspects of ancient Judaism. I believe it is safe to say that Nephi was fairly familiar with many aspects of Judaism at the time of his life. There are several things that make me think this. One being the state of Lehi and his families living conditions. It is made fairly obvious that his family was rich. The reasons can vary for this, but truthfully, there were little stations in life at the time that could bring about true wealth. While some, like Hugh B. Nibley, argued that Lehi was likely a merchant in the city, I feel the issue of importance is not what Lehi did, but that he had wealth; enough to make Laban willing to kill or capture Lehi's sons for the treasures (1 Ne. 3:26). This wealth can then easily be associated with intellectual learning, a large part of this learning being of their scripture. Furthermore, Lehi knowing about the brass plates helps to indicate his access to that type of information.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Why Nephi Killed Laban: Part 1

To say I have struggles with the question of why Nephi killed Laban is not entirely accurate. I would not categorize my relation with this question a struggle, but rather a constant area of intrigue. For some time now I have considered this question, hoping to find some solace in why Nephi felt, or was prompted to kill Laban, however, regrettably, the questions is harder to answer than I had originally thought.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Suffering, Empathy, and Living Among Others

Many of my beliefs stem from a fascination with empathy. In my opinion I feel as though it is through empathy towards one another that brings us closer to God. In recent years many Mormon authors have used idea's of empathy (while maybe not addressing it directly) to show a more complete view of what the gospel can do for us.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Job, Vonnegut, and Lot's Wife

Kurt Vonnegut wrote, in my opinion, one of the most honest lines ever written in his book, Slaughterhouse-five. In the first chapter he wrote of Lot's wife turning back to look back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah,

"And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt."

Sunday, March 1, 2015

This Is How Romans Should Be Read

Grace Is Not God's Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul's Letter to the RomansRecently I had the great pleasure of reading Adam Millers latest book, Grace Is Not God's Backup Plan. I went into this only knowing that I have enjoyed other works by Adam Miller, but not knowing even what the book contained, or what it was about. Let me just say, I was blown away.