Category Archives: Animal Thought

Itsy & The Infinite Web 7: Hands In The Palm Of The Head

The three walked silently down the long reflective hall past many, many indistinguishable doors for what seemed like an overlong time.  Finally one of the doors flew open and out stumbled a giraffe in a long lab coat. He saw them and stopped in his tracks, bewildered.

“Oh!  Hello!  I didn’t know we had visitors.  I’m the division head here. Did you know that six hundred and seventy two orangutans in seven piles would put precisely ninety six apes in each?  I thought you would not. Allow me to show you around or two,” he said, chuckling at his little joke as he continued across the hall to the door opposite the other, which he opened, revealing another giraffe in a lab coat.  “This is my disassociate.”

No I’m not!  I’ve never seen this giraffe before in my life!  This isn’t the time or the place!  I’m not here right now, but you can leave me a message after the beep,” stammered the second giraffe, clearly surprised and upset.

“On second thought,” the division head said, carefully closing the door in the disassociate’s face, “let’s go over here, instead,” and he walked back across the hall to a third door and opened it.

The silence of the hall was filled by a sea of sounds.  The giraffe ushered them into a gigantic factory full of humming and buzzing machines, swarming with attendants in white hazard suits and thick yellow gloves.  They worked away in all shapes and sizes, with little way to distinguish their species. The division head led the tripartite tour group through the room and between the machines, clasping his hooves together as if he had a firm grasp of the situation, and gazing upward from the top of his long neck as if the ceiling held secret answers no one else could see.  He began to lecture the three, presumably to guide the tour.

“Have you ever wondered to yourself: Who are all these fools and jerks?  Where do they find them all?  Is there some sort of competition to be this stupid, or can anybody do it if they know the right people?  Clearly it takes all kinds, and not just the kind kind of kinds.  We know our world is full of fools and jerks, yet many important questions remain unanswered.  Are jerks merely fools of a certain feather? Are fools always fooled by jerks?  Can fools or jerks be contained or counteracted through the proper use of institutions, or is it always a losing battle?  Here at Establishment Labs, we are first and foremost in these fundamental studies.

Sometimes we say things, others agree, we put them in practice, and things work out, but there are also times that all this happens and not a single thing works out, sometimes because of fools, sometimes because of jerks, and sometimes just because.  Then there are times when we say things and nobody agrees, times we can’t do anything right, and times when we say things as if we don’t mean them, sometimes because of fools and jerks, and sometimes just because.  Because of all that, we haven’t completely extracted fools or jerks from anything yet.

We now know, after extensive, objective analysis, that fools and jerks are sub-composed of solids, liquids and gases: food, water and air, irrespectively.  Unfortunately this does nothing to isolate them from or contain them within the general population.  There are even those who theorize that fools and jerks are indistinguishable from ordinary folks like us, but that could mean…” and here he trailed off, bit his lip, and motioned for them to huddle together, his eyes darting nervously around the room, lowering his higher head carefully down to their level.  “We could be surrounded by fools and jerks, right now,” he whispered, “ IN THIS VERY ROOM!

HELLO MARSHMALLOW!” sang Joy to one of the suited attendants, who fell backwards in fear and curled up into a ball on the floor, covering masked head in massive gloves.

“Oh, you don’t want to talk to the hands,” said the division head.  “They aren’t trained to communicate. We carefully breed them to have no life outside the lab.  They live and work in arranged pairs, taking turns working and sleeping. One hand washes the other, feeds the other, sends the other up here to work, and then they rotate.  They don’t interact with others, other than that.  You should really only speak to me, or any of the other division heads.  We divide people and things, and speak for them.”

“Typically, things can’t speak,” said Itsy with a questioning gaze.

“Actually, science, religion, politics, philosophy, history, art and all sorts of things say all sorts of things, but they have to say them through us, the analysts.  We specialize in everything.  We envision how things are, and put the tune to words.”

Itsy & The Infinite Web 6: You’re In & You’re Out

As the three reached the end of the road, they passed underneath a large sign that said: ESTABLISHMENT LABORATORIES – Distilling Life to Fortify our World!

Beyond the gate the tower was towering, wide with many sides and tall with many stories.  The three approached two huge doors covered in golden symbols. Prudence examined the door while Itsy watched Joy sail her boat through the air and make motor noises.

“Ah, here we are!” said Prudence as she pushed a large X that produced a small chime.  “The bell tolls for these.”

The doors swung open outwards and with them came two guards, both large bears, covered with badges and medals, as if highly decorated after countless past battles.  The guard on the right had a hat that said “Out Warden”, and the guard on the left had a hat that said ‘“In Warden”. The two stood shoulder to shoulder in the doorway, glaring at the three inquirers.

“Alright, stop right there, all of you!” demanded the Out Warden.  “You’re clearly all outside, and thus are not to be trusted!”

“Yes!” agreed the In Warden, “Stop right here, and come inside immediately!

YES,” shouted Out, “Stop and… Wait, what?  NO!  We were told to keep everyone OUT who was out, and by someone up high inside!”

“No we weren’t!” IN ‘sisted.  “I spoke to several superiors and THEY want everyone IN!

WHO HIRED YOU?!?” exclaimed OUT.  “They can’t have clearance!  What kind of guard keeps everyone in?”

Prison guards?” suggested Prudence, trying to keep Joy from climbing between them, using their ribbons for grips and footing.  “JOY!  These people are not toys.  They are serious tools.”

“And what if one of them has a knife, HUH?” thrusted OUT, as oblivious as IN to the upwardly mobile duckling.  “Should we give everyone a group hug to check for weapons, you long-haired anarchist?  Remember, I’m the old guard here.”

“Anarchy?  ME?!?” IN ‘quisitioned with surprise.  “You’re the one who lets dangerous strangers run around without supervision!  If any of them is armed, we should make sure to look in on them, not leave them out here without any oversight!”

“Between the two of you,” Itsy intervened, “you must let some in and some out some of the time.  Otherwise, seal the door shut and there’s no need for guards.”

The two stared at Itsy and then at each other, while Prudence tried to stop Joy from cramming as many medals as she could into her mouth.

“How about we compromise,” thought OUT out loud.  “She can get in, or her or her!

“Finally we’re getting somewhere,” IN vented with frustration, and pointed to Prudence and Itsy with two claws.  “You and you, get IN here!”

“No,” said OUT.  “I said her OR her, OR her!”

“Right!” said IN.  “So her AND her, NOT her!”

“No, no, NO!” screamed OUT.  “What part of OR don’t you understand!”

“If the choice is mine to make, you silly screaming person, then I could choose her, her or her, or her and her, her and her, or her and her.  I could choose her and her AND THE SPIDER, but I’m trying to compromise!” said IN, completely exhausted.

Prudence pried the slimy ball of ribbons from Joy’s mouth, tossed them safely aside, and pulled a sandwich out of her coat.  “Perhaps you could share this?” she suggested.

Both bears eyed the sandwich.

“I say one of us eats it or nobody eats it,” said the Out Warden.

“And I say both of us eats it or nobody eats it,” said the In Warden.

“So you both agree that nobody eats it,” concluded Prudence.

NOT NECESSARILY!” the two passionately objected together.

They turned to and on each other, both hungry but both stubborn, arguing over the standing practices of when and how sandwiches are shared that lasted far longer than it would have taken for either or both to simply eat the sandwich.

Itsy, interested in neither side and now bored, slid beneath their disagreement, and the other two followed her through the door and down a long reflective hall.  Prudence left the sandwich on the doorstep between the arguing guards, though this clearly bothered her.

“See that!  Three more got in!  That’s YOUR FAULT!” said OUT as an echo down the hall.

My fault?  First of all, I win!” said IN, another echo.  “Second to none, you were distracting us!”

“They barely listen,” sighed Prudence, “either to us or to each other.”

“I’m not really sure what we’re getting into exactly,” said Itsy, glancing back towards the doors, “It certainly looks like we’re in for a long haul, but thanks for getting us in the door, Prudence.”

“Not a problem,” replied the swan calmly.  “Everyone fights over truth as if it’s the last sandwich on earth, or on wheat, on Dutch crunch… JOY! Don’t lick the walls!  You don’t know where they’ve been!

The Long Buddha Shortened: The Supreme Net

This is the first in a series of my distillations of the Long Discourses of the Buddha (the Digha Nikaya), the Buddha’s original teachings shortened for easy reading.

In the first of the Long Discourses, the Brahmajala Sutta (The Supreme Net), the Buddha is traveling with 500 monks from town to town, and unwittingly followed by Suppiya, a teacher who criticizes the Buddha, and Brahmadatta, Suppiya’s student who praises the Buddha.  It seems that positive and negative opinions and arguments about the Buddha follow him and his followers wherever they go.  They all stop for a night at a park with shade and water provided by royalty and guarded with  a wall for travelers to rest along their way.  In the morning, followers of the Buddha were talking about how wonderful it is for the Buddha to be aware of the varied opinions that follow him.

The Buddha hears them and says that they should not be angry with anyone who criticizes him, his teachings or his followers, as this will hold them back and prevent them from seeing if the criticism is right or wrong.  Rather, they should explain what is wrong with the criticism.  Similarly, they should not be pleased by those who give praise, as that will also hold them back.  Rather, they should explain what is right with the praise.  The Buddha says that only foolish, worldly people praise him for abandoning violence, sex, lies, entertainment, luxury, property, and servants, for doing the right thing and saying the right thing at the right time and to the right extent.  Only foolish, worldly people criticize his opponents, such as the Hindu Brahmins, for acting in ways that lead to addiction and destruction, speaking about useless things, claiming to know what others do not in debate, running errands for those in power or misleading others with expert advice and fortune telling.  

Rather, there are other things that are hard to see and beyond ordinary thought that the wise can know that do deserve praise.  Neither discipline nor reason can reveal these things.  The particular knowledge that these practices reveal leads to further birth and death, but being unattached to this itself is to know true peace and freedom.  Each time the world is reborn, God (Brahma) becomes lonely and creates the other gods and beings.  Later, those who seek wisdom beyond the home discover that things are impermanent, pleasure is addictive and logical reasoning gives stability to the ideas of the mind, and they split into those who believe that the self and world are permanent and those who do not (“Eternalists and Non-Eternalists”, also the “Infinitists and Finitists”).

Some argue that things are permanent, others that things are impermanent, others that things are both permanent one way but impermanent another, and others that things are neither in any particular way.  (These are the Catuskoti of Nagarjuna.)  Similarly there are those who debate whether we know what is good or bad, those who debate whether or not there is life after death in another world beyond this one, those who debate whether things happen by chance or necessity, and those who debate whether enlightenment and freedom are here now or somewhere else.

These “wriggly eels” on each side evade questions in debate that they can’t answer.  Those who take one side against the other do not see the fear and chaos that makes them and the other cling to one side, nor do they see that clinging to one side will not bring them peace or safety, but merely trap them in a vast, intricate net, like a fish too large to swim between the knots.  When anyone sees what is beyond all these sides, they see what only the wise can see, the supreme net of all possibly viewpoints and the superior victory over all battles.

Ponderous Walrus Ponders: What does it all mean?

What does it all mean?

Can everything mean something in particular?  What do walruses mean? 

What does this pondering walrus mean to you right now?   What will this walrus mean to you in twenty years?  If your children’s children discover this secret meaning a century from now, would they approve?

Do walruses typically need approval?  Why do you?  Does it have anything to do with asking about what things mean?

What does it all mean?

Tsunayoshi the Dog Shogun

In reading Crazy Clouds: Zen Radicals, Rebels & Reformers (Besserman & Steger 1991) I came across an amusing and disturbing paragraph:

Tsunayoshi the Dog Shogun

Oblivious to popular resentment and surrounding himself with small-minded advisers, Tsunayoshi extended his private sensibilities even further into the public domain by declaring the killing of animals a capital offense.  This necessitated the creation of an enormous bureaucracy consisting of police and inspectors to keep track of all newborn litters and to make accurate lists of the sex and markings of the animals.  Samurai who defied this decree were mercilessly put to death at the shogun’s personal orders.  Nicknaming him Inu-Kobo, or Dog-Shogun, the citizens of Edo did not grieve when Tsunayoshi was murdered by his wife in 1709.