Definition – Can You Improve It?

131208-ice-ASC_7643RLSsI think of wisdom as fundamentally the ability to understand the relationship between one’s cultural knowledge and one’s cultural and physical environment. I started using the term “wisdom cloud” to refer to the accumulated wisdom of our human cultural environment, and I am assuming the function of our cultural environment is to provide an environment in which people mature knowing how to behave in ways that will benefit the welfare of the community. I use the term “wisdom systems” to refer to subsets of belief that have been formalized. It’s not the best term one could use because it implies that all wisdom systems are wise. This is not so. The wise system is that which results in the greatest overall benefit to Life, if well used, because it most accurately reflects fundamental biological reality, or now that we also must deal with scientific information, does not deny the reality of measurable facts.

131214-Clubhouse-ASC_7673YLSs copy 2If I were to state this from the viewpoint of an omnipotent creator I would say that Creator set in motion the laws of nature (which are super-human and which humans can neither fully understand nor change) to select for or grow a system that functions according to the greatest good for all sentient beings, which ultimately is the greatest good for the one Life of Earth.

The Creation is a miracle that we should celebrate and protect. This year I plan to celebrate that miracle at a midnight musical service, and I wish you the same or similar experience.

Bare Bones Biology 162 – Aboriginal Wisdom

Last week I commented on the commentary of Kooper ( a modern Navaho rap artist. Today, I quote from Henry Crow Dog (Crow Dog, by Leonard Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes. Harper, 1995), who was a third-generation Sioux medicine man. After that, I will repeat my favorite quote fromOren Lyons, former Chief of the Onandoga. Here are some words of Henry Crow Dog:

130801-cliff-ASC_4981RLSs copy“Why did the white man come here? Why did Custer steal the sacred Black Hills from us? White men are crazy about gold. They have gold rimmed glasses, gold watches, gold teeth. They were always rooting around, tearing everything apart, digging, digging, digging. They tore up the whole Black Hills to find gold, silver and precious stones. They still work the huge gold mine, the Homestake Mine, up there. Now they’re after gas, coal, oil and uranium. You can see the big trucks with the nuclear stuff coming through here from the Black Hills.”

“The white man has eyes but he does not see. He has ears but he does not hear. The clock of the universe, the spirit clock, has already struck twelve. It’s time to set this clock right, time to stop and think.”

“We’ve got to civilize the white man because he has gone astray.”

You already know that I agree with the wisdom of these words – except of course it isn’t our whiteness that makes us crazy. It is the structure of our corposystem culture that makes us believe we can build the good life out of things, rather than with wisdom.

This, I believe, is also the basic reason for the Compassionate Earth Walk that I have talked about before, led by a white American Buddhist monk with international and intergenerational followers. They are now walking from the Tar Sands in Canada toward the home of Henry Crow Dog in South Dakota, along the route of the latest “white man’s folly” the Tar Sands Pipeline. Unfortunately they will probably have to stop somewhere

130802-Pup-ASC_5037RLSsPeople have been walking along the wisdom trail since long before Martin Luther King, and including both Leonard Crow Dog and Chief Oren Lyons, whose words I have quoted before and can be found in conversation with Bill Moyers obtainable from PBS. He said:

“We are now. Now is us. We’re the seventh generation. I’m sitting here as the seventh generation because seven generations ago there were people looking out for me. Seven generations from now, someone will be here, I know. And so each generation makes sure that seven generations is coming all the time. That’s accountability. We’re accountable. We, you and I, we’re accountable. Yes we are, and they are going to call us. They’re the ones that are going to say, why did you do this, or why did you not do this?”

Indeed, Chief Lyons was also a walker along the wisdom trail. I wonder if that is anything like the original wisdom of the Bhodisatva path? Anything like the life of Jesus? Ask Joseph Campbell (also available on PBS), and he would (did) say yes, the aboriginal wisdom of human kind is the story of how to survive as a part of the Creation. It is the story of human wisdom, the same wisdom, spoken in many voices – many stories.

And so this is a biology program. What has that to do with Biology?

Not very much, because Henry Crow Dog is right. If we continue to pursue science without wisdom “. . a time will come when the bullets won’t work, the bombs won’t work, the spaceships will fall into the ocean. The generals, the senators, the president himself, won’t know what to do.” Because global science without human wisdom cannot save us from ourselves.

But it’s also true that human wisdom that denies reality will come to the same end. Because wisdom that does not include an understanding of factual reality isn’t wise enough to deal with today. And we are today.

So I can’t understand why we have divided ourselves into those two groups, those who believe that human wisdom can conquer global science, and those who believe that global science should conquer human wisdom. Both groups have the same basic goal of the good life, but neither can achieve that goal in today’s world without the knowledge that is available from the other. And so long as we won’t listen, each to the other, we will have neither wisdom nor the good life.

What is the solution to this problem? If you are technical minded, discuss with your neighbor whatever wisdom system she or he best understands; if you are completely devoted to learning about compassion, or Christianity, or Buddhism, or even if you are already a Medicine Man or a Bhodisatva – part of your obligation to the future is to take the time to discuss (or read about) some fact-based science – not human technology (prowess) or the fanciful tales of the corposystem propaganda, but the unchangeable processes that physically function to keep our Biosystem alive and well. What most of you were not taught in school.

Bare Bones Biology is a production of and KEOS FM radio, 89.1, Bryan, Texas. The podcast of this episode can be downloaded here or at:

Bare Bones Biology 161 – Activism as War

Our deepest human obligation to the future of humans at this time is to understand the physical danger that threatens our human home on this the living earth. We have raised up a corposystem that is based on the use of power to dominate. In various parts of the corposystem we use the power of money, the power of fun, the power of sex, the power of bulldozers and atom bombs, the power of winning, the power of men over women and of people over everything that people don’t like.

At the same time, we know that human spiritual energy is not enough to save the starving. Compassion is not enough to save our place in the biosystem. Competition merely widens the destruction, and dominion over the laws of God and nature is not possible.

130728-canyon-ASC_4963RLSPsWe started by defeating ancient sources of human wisdom. We tossed them out because we didn’t understand them. And our power grew. We proceeded to generate measurable facts about the biosystem, and again our power grew.

And so now what we have is a huge pile of powerful facts that we don’t know how to use wisely – playthings of the gods we believe ourselves to be. And what’s worse we have come to believe that we can overcome our biological problems by piling up more facts and more power. More spiritual power, more compassion power, more domination power.

Maybe, instead of all our competition over various kinds of power – maybe we should try to remember that we already have (or had) the wisdom that we need to use all that power – to use it in a way that will cause more benefit than harm to our living home on earth.

Bare Bones Biology is a production of and KEOS FM radio, 89.1, Bryan, Texas. The podcast of this episode is much better than the blog version because it has actual background music provided by Kooper, the Navaho rap artist whose work can be found at Download the podcast here:

Bare Bones Biology 158 – Fracking the Reservation

It’s doubly ironic, what I’ve been told is happening on the Jicarilla Apache reservation that is my neighbor. This situation is a small example of the decisions we all face, in fulfilling our responsibility to the future. We have the option to use our knowledge to respond to the challenge of supporting the health of the Biosystem — or not. The Biosystem does not care about our reasons. If we do not act, it will make the choices for us. The bottom line choice is between accepting the jobs that are now offered by the corposystem — or facing the fact that many of these jobs now are gained by destroying the ability of our Biosystem to provide Life (earth, air, energy, water) for our future generations.

Here is the story. images

The Apache Nations had a sustainable culture nourished by their knowledge of the Biosystem. The Biosystem is all of Life on earth that is able to sustain life by maintaining the balance among all its parts – the soil, water, food energy and air – everything we organisms need to stay alive.

The cultural wisdom of the Apache Nations was gained by centuries of experience and observation. Early people lived sustainably within the Biosystem without destroying the resources that gave them life. Chief Garfield

The Apaches (and the other First Nations) were defeated in war by the new arrivals. The newcomers stripped them, as much as possible, of the power of their traditional wisdom and gave them a part of this Biosystem that was thought to be of no value. The newcomers do not have a traditional wisdom. They are growing a new system that is based on the power of technology to make money.

It’s hard to remember, because things have changed so fast, that all this happened not so very long ago. After that time, the newcomers learned more and more to use the power of technology and corporations to make money. In fact, they have grown a new little bubble of a Corposystem within the Biosystem of Life. This subsystem of Life cannot maintain itself without the soil, air, water and energy from plants that are made by the living Biosystem.

Time passed, and the people of the Apache Nation admired the power of the newcomers and began to exchange their own sustainable wisdom for the newcomers’ unsustainable financial greed. They began to believe that the Corposystem is more powerful than the Ecosystem. They learned how to “make” money and began to buy back the land that had been taken from them. So the Apache Nation started to become richer, and started using the money to buy land. Land is good. If properly nurtured, land gives us what we need for life. Earth, air, fire (food energy) and water. Only the Biosystem can make these things, and only if the biosystem remains balanced among all its parts, including us. Buy the land and nurture it; a fine plan.

But now the Apache Nation is (comparatively) rich, what is their plan for their lands? Apparently (I haven’t asked them directly) they want to use the land to become more rich – to be like the newcomers. They want to frack the land for money rather than nurture the land to support their own future. It sounds to me like they have been doubled-conned by the newcomers – first to lose their home on the lands and then as they gain it back, to lose it again by fracking away its good water, air and soil for an energy source that is only good for making money.

130627-Shodo-ASC_3952sThere are other options than either of these two. Life is not a choice between Biosystem and Corposystem. Life is our responsibility to nurture the future of Life. There is nothing to stop us from choosing the best of both systems, rather than the worst. Except perhaps an ego based in greed, rather than an ego based in wisdom.

And if we do decide to choose the welfare of the future Biosystem — over our perks of today – it is then our obligation to discover what the Biosystem really does need to be healthy — not what is our personal opinion of what it should need. The Biosystem does not care about our opinions – but we need to learn how the cycle really functions to maintain the soil, energy from photosynthesis, breathable air and drinkable water – and we need to stop destroying the balance of the Biosystem it on the basis of personal opinions or corposystem propaganda.

This is Bare Bones Biology, a production of KEOS 89.1 FM Bryan, TX, and A podcast can be downloaded at:

(image of Chief Garfield)

Bare Bones Biology 119 – Rabi Malka Drucker I

Right now I’m skimming through a book written by Rabi <a href="“>Malka Drucker, and I can see I will have to settle down in my lawn chair under the little apple tree and read the book. The title is White Fire:A portrait of Women Spiritual Leaders in America, and sadly it is out of print, but I think you can get it at the library, or maybe even Amazon. I suggest you go to Rabi Drucker’s web site and also the White Fire web site to learn more about this book (including videos) and the other books that Rabi Drucker has written. Right now, she is working on a new book about wisdom, and I can’t wait for that, so I asked her to favor us with an advance conversation on the subject. There are also two podcasts of Rabi Drucker speaking at Upaya that you might want to download.

The transcript of this week’s Bare Bones Biology is below. It’s the first of three parts to our discussion. Perhaps you will read or listen to the others during the last two weeks of August. The next one is on the subject of compassion and the last will be about wisdom. If you add the three together, what you get is responsibility plus compassion = wisdom. At least that is how it seems to me. Here is today’s transcript.

“This week we have the first installment of a discussion with Rabi Malka Drucker.

LL-“There is a conflict between human welfare and the welfare of the whole earth ecosystem.
MD-“No there’s not. We are of it, so there can’t be conflict. Either we are part of the system or we’re not. So the only way to survive is to be part of the system. So there is nothing that can promote human welfare that can hurt the environment.
LL-“Well, there’s – I would say it the other way, though, that anything that promotes the welfare of the whole earth ecosystem also promotes the welfare of humans within that ecosystem. That’s my perspective but it’s not the same.
MD- “How is it not the same?
LL- “It’s not the same because the ecosystem operates on balance, and so if we promote only human welfare and not the welfare of all the rest of the organisms –
MD- “What do you think I said?
LL- “I think you said anything that promotes human welfare would benefit the ecosystem.
MD- “No I said the opposite of that. I said anything that hurts the ecosystem is not beneficial to human beings.
LL- “Well, we don’t disagree. We were just having a little semantic problem.
MD-“I was saying that you can’t say something is good for human beings that is bad for the environment. There is no separation. If it’s bad for the world, it’s bad for human beings.
LL- “I love it. The problem arises out of trying to maintain the balance.
MD-“Again I’ll say, in the highest sphere, let’s take an example. Air conditioning. People like air conditioning. Especially in hot humid places. It’s become part of their lives. Now we find out that air conditioning is bad, and we’ve got a greenhouse effect that harms the earth climate. So here’s a case where the answer has to be that you do what you need to do to survive. Not comfort. There’s living and then there’s comfort, so comfort must be sacrificed. It’s a no-brainer. If you gave the dilemma to a fourth grade class, they’d come up with a solution. The conflict is because of ego – our egos. We don’t want to compromise. It’s simple.
LL- “I think it’s even a deeper compromise. I think it comes right down to our instinctual compassionate response when we see anything suffering. And at that point, if we’re going to consider the welfare of the ecosystem, we’ll have even more difficult —
MD- “Ah, I hear you. So here again, it’s amazing how my tradition sings to my —
So here’s how the Jewish tradition deals with this. The world rests – they have about 12 different things the world rests on, but this particular example the world rests upon justice and mercy. I see this as a vessel must contain the light. So the vessel is justice, and always mercy must supercede it. Ultimately, that’s the answer.
LL- “A Buddhist said that two wings, the wing of love and the wing of justice is what permits us to fly.
MD- “Lovely image, same notion exactly.
LL- How does overpopulation fit into that?
MD- “I’m going to give you the same answer. I keep checking the same box. It’s about ego. Human beings are not facing what needs to be faced, and taking responsibility for it.
LL- “OK, you’re checking the same box I check.
MD-“You’ll find it hard to disagree with me.
LL- “I don’t want to disagree with you.”

No indeed I would be so happy (people keep asking me what would make me happy) I would be so happy if we would all sit down together and discuss our responsibilities to ourselves within the ecosystem. Even if we were not checking the same box. Especially if we were not checking the same box. There is no good survival reason for all this conflict. We all need the same basic things to survive, and these are provided to us by the ecosystem. The way to get these things is to modify our behaviors to stop causing harm to the ecosystem, and the way to do that is first to start talking about our needs and behaviors in our communities and beyond.

Just one more point please, because of my very long history of emphasizing biological levels of organization of the earth ecosystem. When we talk about levels of organization, we use the most simple image – three levels: individual humans and their needs; populations of humans and their needs; and the whole earth ecosystem and its needs.

There was not time in the five minutes to talk about levels, but different levels do have some differences of their needs. In fact, that’s how the biosphere maintains its balance, but that is another story. The point here is that the differences in the needs of the different levels can be a source of our most difficult dilemmas.

Those differences might be a good starter for a follow-up discussion about our responsibilities to ourselves and to the ecosystem. What do individual humans need (we agreed on survival, and probably we would agree on the basic human values); what do populations of humans need? What does the whole earth ecosystem need for its survival that might be different from the other two?

Bare Bones Biology 119 – Rabi Malka Drucker I
KEOS Radio, 89.1 FM, Bryan, Texas
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Artist William Michael Schindler, Santa Fe

Letter to Larry

“The Rev. Dr. Samuel Hamilton-Poore preaches from Exodus 20:8-11, January 23, 2011, about 24 minutes. Breathing Space: Just Stop! Linger! Rest! That’s what God’s sabbath keeping commandment—and His invitation—are about. San Francisco Theological Seminary Assistant Professor. (You can go to Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church website or email me for a podcast of the sermon-LL)

“I thought he made some relevant points about our society’s inability to act on issues of ecological degradation despite the knowledge we already have. Knowledge doesn’t seem to be enough. Rob Hopkins’ Transition Handbook also has a chapter (Ch 6) about the stages of change that addresses the same issue. This looks to me like the biggest challenge we face.”

Indeed I think it is the biggest challenge we face. When I decided to deal with the problem, I wrote a factual booklet describing how energy flows through the ecosystem to keep the whole thing alive. I stressed levels of organization and also, because Larry brought to my attention our lack of understanding of this issue, the necessity of biodiversity to generate resilience in the ecosystem so that it can respond to stress.

But I had to change my opinion that the information is enough. Right now my “simplest solution” that I have described is my audiocast (

We would have to add two more specific dimensions to the knowledge:

First we must articulate a common goal. We think we are talking about something different and more important from each other (we being politicians, religious, the different major camps). We are not. We all want the same thing, but we each seem to think we have a special handle on getting it. Therefore we need to have a common goal so that as we all point toward the same goal we will be coming closer to understanding each other, rather than flying off in all different directions cancelling out the efforts each of the other. I try to articulate this concept in every discussion, not that I can — well, my goal is to make the world better rather than worse for my being here. You see, then it becomes necessary that we be willing also to talk among ourselves, because we have to figure out what better means. Articulating a goal is necessary before we can effectively use either facts or any other approach to bring about change.

Second we must find some way to incorporate compassion into our manipulations of the factual problems we face, because humans are hard-wired for compassion, but ecosystems are not. And ecosystems require for their survival things that humans consider un-compassionate. There is our deepest dilemma, and it needs to be discussed with compassion. To do that we need to understand that the levels of our biological organization (individual, social, corposystem, ecosystem) are different in their requirements.

We can not resolve an ecosystem dilemma using human compassion unless we inform our compassion with the factual needs of the system we are trying to influence. Humans will not cooperate with a solution they believe to lack compassion. They don’t understand that there are also levels of compassion. Innate simple heart compassion is not the only kind. We will require also to apply wisdom compassion that tries to accomplish the least amount of suffering for all of life, based on our factual understanding of reality.

The simplest possible solution:
A common goal; measurable facts; heart compassion; wisdom compassion.

The Power of Religion

Even if we don’t care about their Godly beginnings, the religions can give us our best source of human wisdom. Both through the mistakes that have been made in the name of religion, and in the ongoing traditions, the religious injunctions have been tested through the centuries by many people in many cultures.

For example, thou shalt not kill. We know, if we go out and start a war, the result will be a long and awful hatred directed at us by the people whose parents (ancestors) and children we have killed and maimed. If we are honest, we do not blame other people for a hatred that we created, and we know it is wiser to not create it in the first place. So why do we do it? The source of most unwise behaviors is pride, arrogance and the ego-driven life.

All the religions advise against pride, arrogance and the ego-driven life. But that sounds pretty wimpy in the context of “The American Way” doesn’t it? What is wrong with me living a good life if I am not hurting anyone else?

I think that question answers itself. Pride, arrogance and the ego-driven life define our unexamined belief that our lives are nobody else’s business; that we are not hurting anyone else; and that we as individuals are more important than the community, the ecosystem, the government — more important than everything else.

The reality is otherwise. If I may introduce the wisdom of science into the discussion, the two most important things we know about the creation are:

1. All of the creation functions by natural laws, and all the natural laws relate to balance. All the different parts of the creation must stay in balance with each other or something will happen to bring them back to balance. All of nature is set up to maintain the balance of nature. Those parts of nature (things like the law of gravity, for example, or the nature of time) are not things we can not change or stop. We are not God; we are only “me.”

2. Everything in the creation does affect everything else, in one way or another, because the whole shebang is a network of interacting processes and behaviors.

Surely these two realities are reason enough that the wisdom traditions of the ages have preached against pride, arrogance and the ego driven life. Clearly, if we want to not be ego-driven we must honor the needs of the community, the ecosystem, the whole creation, above our individual needs. And so we try to do this, but we nevertheless often get the vague feeling that the world is worse because we are here — like we should be able to change something about Haiti, for example, but we can’t. And we feel bad.

Of course we feel bad. It is a human tragedy. If we didn’t feel bad there would be something inhuman about us. Still, nobody wants the world to be worse because she lived here, and that makes us ask — what can we do that will make the world a better place because we lived here? My answer to that question is very clear. We should not to do the same behaviors that caused the problems in the first place. If we want to avoid an even bigger tragedy for the future, then our prime directive must be to find a better way than what we did in the past, but we certainly should NOT do more of what caused the problem in the first place.

The tragedy of our times, as I see it, is the enormous amount of compassion that is being poured into doing more and yet more of the behaviors that are the very cause of the problems that they are trying to fix — rather than buckling down to the more difficult task of fixing the root cause of the problems. And the tragedy is compounded by the fact that we do understand what caused these problems and we do have the technologies with which to address them. Our biggest challenge is not to figure out the cause, but to come up with a solution, and we aren’t even trying to talk about that.

So what can I do?

1. The first thing we should do is recognize that we can not personally understand all of the wisdom of all of the creation. Therefore, we should question what we believe, if what I believe actually is the best thing for the community, the ecosystem and the whole creation. Even if my belief is based upon a quotation from the Bible. Probably someone else can find an opposing quote. I believe is a position of pride, and the Bible does not promote pride. Even if we love our beliefs and they define the world for us. All the more reason to question them.

2. The second thing is to do this questioning positively, that is, in a way that will lead to changes that are good for the community, the ecosystem and the creation as it continues through time. Four steps in that process are:

a. Realize that you are not responsible for the behaviors of other people in past times. The problems of Haiti are a combination of the past behaviors of other people and the natural processes of the earth. There is nothing anyone can do to change the past behaviors of other people, or of our selves for that matter, or the natural processes of the earth. The best we can do about past behaviors and natural processes is to learn from them, provide compassionate support for the victims, and dedicate ourselves now to behaviors that do not contribute to similar events in the future.

b. Recognize that our own responsibility relates to what we are doing right now. Our responsibility now is to figure out the bottom-line root causes of these disasters so that we can behave in a more helpful way. This can not be done by individual people because nobody knows enough — it requires a community of wisdoms, working together. But it must be an inclusive community, not one that is hand-picked to our personal belief system.

c. We must learn to listen together — REALLY listen to all the sources of wisdom, check them against our own wisdom traditions to see if they make sense. If they don’t seem to make sense and they do seem to be important, then discuss them with someone who is in the OTHER wisdom tradition that doesn’t make sense to us. Of course, we must choose someone who will also listen, so that we all together can make sense of — whatever seems to be contradictory.
Learn to know the difference between opinions and facts.
Understand that debates are really a form of ego confrontation, not problem solving. There is no such thing as a problem with only two answers; therefore real problem solving tries to find all the answers to every problem. That requires discussion, not debate. Debate is designed to promote ego and pride, and to sell something without talking about all the relevant facts.

d. Recognize there is no such thing as “empowerment,” outside of politics, and me-ism is neither our constitutional right, nor is it self-affirming. The only power that we control is our own behavior as we respond to whatever is happening in this moment of time, and as we plan our behaviors for the future. The most self-affirming thing that we can possibly do is help to create a better community, ecosystem, etc., for our tribe.

3. The third thing we should do is to use our tested wisdom to inform our behaviors in each moment of time according to the best interests of the community, the ecosystem and the creation as a whole.

This is more than enough responsibility for most people, especially as we compassionately try to help the victims of yesterday’s mistakes. If we ONLY clean up the mistakes — and do not take any responsibility for positive change — then we are part of the problem and not part of the solution, because we are creating more victims for the future than we are helping today.