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26. Back to Square One ???

26. Back to Square One?

It’s now June 10th, and I am finally able to write the next chapter. About a week ago, I met with Bob after my return from Palm Springs. We had a few bowls at his place and then walked to have lunch at the local health food store a few blocks away.

I told Bob that I was now following 4 tracks when it came to my illness: Western medicine, alternative medicine, Buddhism, and the shamanic cure in Peru. I thought it was a fine meeting. Clearly, Bob thought otherwise.

Four days ago I received the following email from him.

Dear Joe,

It was good to see you yesterday, but I have to say I am very sorry you’ve relapsed into smoking cigarettes. I see this as symptomatic of a larger problem.

As I have said before, in spite of the things you say, it seems to me that you do not truly or sincerely intend to make yourself healthy.  A person who knowingly inhales poisonous gas into their lungs while giving money to the world’s most wretched and evil people so they get more children addicted to their deadly drug, is not on a path of health or sanity.

They are, instead mired and confused in a profoundly dysfunctional ego.  You are making a great effort to rationalize all this, as if you were a rationalist.

But you are not a rationalist Joe. You are a rationalizer who makes elaborate excuses and tries to talk themselves and others into believing what you dearly wish was true, but in my frame of reference, is not.

I am not sure what to do.  While I think ayahuasca is, or could be useful for helping someone deal with their addictions and their rationalizations, it is not the trip I signed on for.

I do think that ayahuasca can help your condition if used in a certain way that I have spent many hours, days and weeks, trying to convey to you.  If or when you decided to embark on such a healing journey, let me know.

With love,


The email hit me like a sledge hammer. What was I going to do now?

There were three possibilities that I could see. One, I could stop smoking again and make Bob willing to go with me again. Two, I could arrange to go on my own. At this point I have enough contacts to make the trip without him. Finally, I could forget about Peru and instead volunteer to work full time to elect Obama.

I have chosen the final option.

At the risk of being a “rationalizer,” I’ll try to explain my thinking again.

In the last chapter I mentioned that looked at the right way, MS could be seen as the best thing that could have happened to me. It got me off my ass to start writing this book and the two blogs I have created. That made me feel good about myself for the first time in years.

In Buddhism, the first Paramita (perfection) that one should cultivate is that of Dana. Dana, or generosity, is encouraged as an essential attitude. This is the best way of offsetting the human tendency of individual self-centeredness and attachment.

But Suzuki, in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind goes much further than that. Dana paramita is more than simple generosity. It comes from the realization that everything in the universe is one. As such, there is absolutely no reason to cling onto anything. You are the same as everything around you. As such, it is in your basic nature to be generous. Fear and ignorance confuse us into thinking it’s preferable to place one’s self first in the scheme of things.

It is this pointless “clinging” that Buddhism tells us is at the root of our suffering.

In chapter 13 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu puts it plainly:

What is meant by saying that the greatest trouble is the strong sense of individual self that people carry in all circumstances?

People are beset with great trouble because they define their lives so narrowly.

If they forsake their narrow sense of self and live wholly, then what can they call trouble?

Therefore, only one who dedicates himself to the wholeness of the world is fit to tend the world.

Only one who relinquishes the self can be entrusted with the responsibility for the life of the world.

Dana paramita, according to Suzuki, is “tending to the world” in Lao Tzu’s meaning. This means doing the best you can for all beings without exception. That includes you, but in no greater way than for everything else.

Suzuki says that each of us has two minds. The “big” mind and the “little” mind. The little mind is the mind that keeps us going as organisms. Without it, we wouldn’t survive. The big mind is the unitary mind of the universe. It is this mind that Lao Tzu is speaking of in his final paragraph of the book.

One of whole virtue is not occupied with amassing material goods.

Yet, the more he lives for others, the richer his life becomes.

The more he gives, the more his life abounds.

The subtle truth of the universe is beneficial, not harmful.

The nature of an integral being is to extend virtue to the world unconditionally, and to contend with no one.

Suzuki goes on to explain that we all can tell when the big mind is working within us. That’s where creativity in us comes from. Creativity is one of the great paradoxes in the Western “cause and effect” metaphysics. We are forced to invent “black box” concepts like emergence and complexity to explain it.

But black boxes don’t really explain anything. They merely identify and give a word to a phenomenon which we are clueless about.

Buddhism has no such problem. Human creativity is seen as the same creativity behind the big bang and the emergence of stars, planets and galaxies out of the sea of undifferentiated plasma that first existed. Not a resulting creativity, the same creativity.

If you have any doubts about our having two minds, Suzuki poses a question to you. “Why is it that it feels so much better to give to someone than to get?” I had never thought of that, and though it’s an unproven assumption, I’ve never met anyone who felt differently.

The reason it feels good is that it is the big mind that is doing it…

That truth can be extended to any act of altruism which we may do. It always “feels” right.

The latest attempt by Western science to explain altruism is that morality is somehow encoded in our genes. Maybe so. Maybe it’s just the result of survival of the fittest group. But diehard Darwinists deny that that even exists. How can it? Individual survival is what is key to passing on genes, not group survival.

Buddhism has no such problems. Forgive me, but it simply makes more sense to me than the Western view. Buddhism doesn’t answer all the mysteries, but it doesn’t create any new ones either.

Well and good. What’s this got to do with ayahuasca and Barack Obama?

The title of this book is “Placebo”. My whole idea was to try to cure myself with the placebo effect by using psychedelics to temporarily delude myself into thinking I’d been cured. In order to accomplish this, I’d need to give up the next three months of my life concentrating on myself.

That always felt a bit selfish and wrong. I “rationalized” it by telling myself that if I was going to be any use to the world I’d have to cure myself first. But that simply isn’t true.

Sixteen years ago, in what I refer to as my idealism’s “last hurrah”, I volunteered to work to elect Ross Perot for six months. (Never mind how it came out in the end.) My position was the head of the West coast’s Jewish support.

I’ve been a supporter of Obama since before he even announced he was running. In a later chapter I’ll go into more detail on this. But as a supporter, I sent the campaign a little money and nothing else.

I comforted myself by saying that my son Barak would carry the torch for me this time. The truth is I had lost all sense of confidence and self respect over the last decade. I just didn’t believe I could do much to help, and was way too worried about my health to bother anyway.

What was it Bob said?

You are a rationalizer who makes elaborate excuses and tries to talk themselves and others into believing what you dearly wish was true.

I dearly wished that I could cure this disease and used my cure as an excuse not to rejoin the living. Although he meant to accomplish something else with his email, Bob woke me up to the wrongheadedness of my approach.

There can be no “cure” for me without dana paramita. I know that now. I’m still an idealist, if a bit battered and bruised with time.

The greatest good to the greatest number of beings on the planet will result if Obama gets elected. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the last chance we’ve got of holding the US together… At least over the short term.

So I choose to work full time towards accomplishing that goal. Big mind versus little mind. There’s no contest for me.

In terms of the placebo effect, maybe instead of deluding myself with psychedelics into thinking I’m cured, I’ll rely on the “big mind” to save me. If I contribute enough, I might even start believing that it’s curing me and I’ll enable the placebo effect just the same.

Last Saturday I spent Shabbat with our local Chabad rabbi who’s a friend of mine. We had long discussions comparing Jewish mysticism with Buddhism. It was a wonderful time for me. He’s a great guy to talk with.

In any event, at one point he pointedly asked me, “What is it that you want?!”

A difficult question to answer…

After thinking it over for a while, when I thought of the answer I knew it was right.

“I want to have a clear conscience…”

July 16, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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