A friend once pointed out a tiny little figure in the far distance of a landscape and said: “I don’t like pictures with artifacts in them.” Interesting thought. It stuck in my mind. I was living and photographing in Tokyo for a couple of months, trying to get pictures without artifacts (OK, but without electrical wires), and I remember this very clearly too (I don’t remember birthdays, I remember insights), when I realized the electrical wires are an integral part of the composition. And so are we. And so is everything else inside the ecosystem. As Joseph Campbell said: “It’s great. Just the way it is.” Like it or not.

Simple Math

Tell me if I’m wrong, but here is how it seems to me. Speaking of Religion.

All the one-God religions (I know nothing about the multi-God religions) the one-God religions all give us the hook of immortality if we will nurture our positive human values. And they threaten us with various punishments if we honor our more disagreeable human values.

Buddhism too.

The corpotechnosystem, on the other hand, offers us immortality if we will buy their stuff, including their “I win/you lose” ethic that serves their need to grow-grow-grow until everyone is fighting over the available resources.

Given the probabilities, you are not likely to win in spite of the most humongous lie of all.* So which sounds more like fun and the most useful ethic? Spending one’s whole life trying to not be a loser, and probably failing or at least feeling like a failure? Or spending one’s life working together with others to build a more humane culture? In case you are the rare person who doesn’t care about immortality, the math is the same, because the rewards and punishments are built in to each of these ethics, in this life, or that of your grandchildren. Oh. Maybe that is immortality? 🙂
*”Everyone is or can be a winner.” Good grief, even three-year-olds know better than that. In a win lose/culture NOBODY can be a winner unless a bunch of other people are losing. Bad odds.


Now I ask you, how would we ever know that “Endeavor” is one of the six most useful behaviors, and that it means “joyful exertion?” Unless we asked. And that “joyful exertion” means “to take delight in doing good?” According to the Dalai Lama, that is the scheme of things, and it seems a good scheme.

Especially when we understand that joyful exertion as he defines it is the antidote to all three kinds of laziness. The first kind of laziness is your routine hanging about – not caring to cope with life’s suffering. The second kind is being distracted by negative activities. The third kind of laziness – and this is a really interesting understanding – is not to have confidence in one’s self and one’s ability to accomplish good actions.

Of course, once we get this straight we have the much more difficult responsibility of figuring out what is “good” and what is “negative.” I think that’s the part Suzy doesn’t care for. (not my picture/not my dog)


Travel, for me, is mostly an opportunity to be understood. At home, I am trapped in other people’s perceptions. If I want something, “Suzy” assumes I want the same things she would want. She can’t imagine that I do not live in her reality. She can’t listen to me, but only to herself. It’s a friendship that can’t exist; a gulf that can’t be crossed; a prison without walls. Her prison or mine I’m not sure, but “Suzy” is almost everyone I meet here, so from time to time it’s a great pleasure for me to get away to a place where people know they don’t know what I’m thinking, and we can get to understand each other much better.

What is this river of mis-perception that flows constantly over and around us? Why are people so incurious about other people’s realities? How to cross that gulf? One way is with words; that’s why I really do want to know what people mean by what they say. That’s also why I care about definitions. The fact is that everyone does NOT mean the same thing by the same word, even other English speakers, and the dictionary is only a starting point written by someone who also doesn’t know what I want to say.

So yesterday we discovered the Dalai Lama’s definition of the word patience, which is quite a lot different from mine, and much better because his patience is the antidote to anger. Anger feels yucky, so I want to understand what he wants to say. If I get it wrong, the antidote might not work. I’m glad he cleared that up because I have been trying for about a year to figure it out.

In a broader sense, the goal of Buddhism is to reduce suffering and achieve happiness — and patience is one of the six most excellent behaviors that should help us to reach that goal. So now I wonder about the other five excellent behaviors. These are generosity, ethics (I’m sure this one also doesn’t mean what I think it means), meditative concentration (there may be a whole lifestyle/skill in this), wisdom (which seems to mean a knowledge of the Buddhist texts, which is also different from my definition of the word) and joyful exertion, also known as endeavor. Joyful exertion seems the easiest and most fun, so I’ll try to understand that one today. According to the Dalai Lama, “Joyful exertion is finding joy in doing what is good.”

I’m for that, and I assume when he says “doing good” he means choosing behaviors that cause the least amount of suffering. Easy, right?


In our prison of culturally defined perceptions, figuring out what is good means defying most of the propaganda of the political system, the NGOs and the corposystem. Whatever we think is good is ?????? Whatever we want? Or admire?


Think of the economic crash. That was mostly caused by people doing whatever they thought was good, according to our river of mis-perception, without thinking about the consequences. Is it “good” to be able to “buy” a house that costs more than you earn?



Or the next crash will be very much worse, because technology can not change how the earth functions to grow our food, and we can NOT grow either our economy or our population beyond the ability of the earth to support. If we try, we will only have bigger and bigger crashes, caused by lack of food resources for ourselves and our machines.

That is not reducing suffering, no matter how “good” we believe our behaviors to be.


“To be patient means not to get angry with those who harm us and instead to have compassion for them. That is not to say that we should let them do what they like. We Tibetans, for example, have undergone great difficulties at the hands of others. But if we get angry with them, we can only be the losers. This is why we are practicing patience. But we are not going to let injustice and oppression go unnoticed.” The Dalai Lama in “For the Benefit of Others.”

I was having trouble with this definition, which is not how the word is ordinarily defined, so was happy to run across a word from the expert. If we use this definition, then it makes sense.

Bare Bones Biology 035 – Limiting Factors

Last time we did a flash review of the information we’ve covered in this series, and it’s pretty much what we need if we decide we really want to save our ecosystem for future generations, except for one thing I haven’t yet put on the radio, the blog, or the book, and that is the concept of limiting factors. Because it’s so difficult to explain without a blackboard. But it’s also very important.

Limiting factors are those conditions that prevent any population from growing beyond the ability of the ecosystem to support it, and they come in levels, or layers, so the first limiting factor that a population might face – every organism is somewhat different, and that’s why we have so many organisms. They all live in different niches of the ecosystem that have different requirements for staying alive. Anyhow, let’s make one up. Suppose it’s a mouse living in Texas and the first limiting factor is water. I mean a species of mouse, not one individual mouse. So this mouse species can not live in areas where there is not as much water as it requires. Also, as global warming increases, the amount of water will be less and there are fluctuations year by year. The mouse population is responsive to all these changes, mostly in terms of how many babies they can raise in any given area and year. The mouse can’t raise babies in areas that have not enough water. For humans, up to now, we have taken care of the water problem by building dams and water pipes.

But back to the mouse, supposing there is enough water, but the temperature limits the number of mice in any area. We humans make heaters and air conditioners.

So maybe all the conditions were great for the mouse one year and they raised a skizzilion babies, until they are so crowded that a disease spreads through the whole population and wipes out half of them. Humans invented flu shots.

Mouse populations are constantly balanced against the predator populations. If there are five different species that eat mice, then there is a constant balance of both the predators and the prey so that the predators never eat all the mice and there are always enough mice to eat. Unless something changes, and then the numbers of predators will be affected. Or the numbers of mice will be affected, or more likely both. All these things are limiting factors. People have learned to grow their own food. Cattle. And corn. And the like.

But the bottom line is that every living cell and organism and ecosystem requires food energy to stay alive. Therefore, bottom line limiting factor is food energy. Food energy is made by photosynthesis in plants and green bacteria. If the major food of mice is a particular kind of grass seed, and if the mice become too populous, so that they eat up all the seeds, then all the mice will starve, and so will the predators. Human technologies can increase efficiency, but there is nothing humans can do to change the bottom line fact, and that is the limiting factor we now face. Or actually we are not facing it, because we’ve gotten a bit big-headed. We’ve used technology to get around all our limiting factors for all these millennia up to now, and we’ve forgotten that the only reason we could do that is because the earth was making more food than we needed to feed ourselves and our machines and now our corposystem.

But we have now reached the point where we and our machines and our corposystem are all competing with the ecosystem for food energy. Another thing we sometimes forget is that the ecosystem is not growing that food just for us; the ecosystem needs food for all its populations of millions of organisms because they do the work that the whole ecosystem needs to stay alive. So we need to pay attention to the fact that we have hit the bottom-line limiting factor for human beings on this earth. What we decide to do about this situation will determine whether or not we survive as a species, and how many people must suffer for our big-headedness. My point in doing all this work is not to change or control anything about reality, but to honor the humane imperative that tells me less suffering is better than more suffering.

Whatever happens, our populations will not grow beyond this final limiting factor because no technology can change the second law of thermodynamics.

Whatever happens, our populations will not grow beyond this final limiting factor because no technology can change the second law of thermodynamics.

Bare Bones Biology 035
KEOS 89.1, Bryan, TX

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

“Years ago, I told our monasteries it is very good to learn science,” His Holiness said. “At first there was resistance and skepticism to this, but now after just five years, we have created a whole curriculum. And now we are starting to study non-Buddhist thought, so that we have monks with fuller knowledge. We must also study living traditions, like Christianity, Islam, and modern philosophy.”

I say it’s also good for us American voters to learn science, if we want to save our cultures and our religions and our ecosystem that supports them all. So I have nominated myself to serve on the review board for supplementary science instructional materials at the high school level.

You don’t have to be in school or on a board to contribute to our welfare. The first step is to be sure you REALLY understand how energy flows through the ecosystem to keep the whole thing alive. The second step is to apply this understanding to whatever charitable activities and actions you espouse.